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A Look at the FIFA World Cup

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Viktor Shklovsky's concept of estrangment in art has been an interest of mine for some time. I know little of soccer and less of FIFA.

Image of empty soccer field sky is black in background.

Image of empty soccer field sky is black in background.

Many people may have a passionate relationship with the FIFA World Cup. But if Viktor Shklovsky was correct that many of us see the world through dulled perception, it might be both exciting and beneficial to take another look at this familiar spectacle. So, in this article, we will develop a practice of estrangement while considering the World Cup via three lenses: its history, who profits from it, and the average citizen of the world's connection to this event.

History

The FIFA World Cup was first organized in 1930 by the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA). FIFA itself was founded in France and is now headquartered in Switzerland. The first World Cup soccer tournament was held in Uruguay, and the Uruguay team was the first winner of the World Cup. The Cup is arguably the product of FIFA's president in 1930, Jules Rimet. Today this tournament, which takes place every four years, is considered one of the most popular sporting events in the world, surpassing even the National Football League's Super Bowl in global viewership.

Who Profits?

In today's world, money is a consideration for any event, and an event as large as the World Cup has both financial demands and gains. A 2018 CNBC article by Michael Sheetz identified three major economic winners and one consistently disputed financial loser. Those who feel a passionate connection to the game may be disappointed, yet not surprised that the players who are so fundamental to the event are not identified among either the major winners nor losers.

Winners all consistently take in numbers in the billions of dollars (US):

  1. FIFA
  2. Broadcasters
  3. Sponsors and ticket sales

There is consistent debate and sometimes contested quantification when it comes to determining the losers. But that argument is most constantly focused on a single entity, the host country. The balance of argumentation generally settles toward the following. The World Cup attracts people and attention, which generates jobs, revenue, and prestige within the country that hosts the event. However, there are several prominent and often unnoticed counters to these seeming positives. The host country is responsible for funding the logistics. Sometimes, particularly within countries with lower wealth, this means building facilities, which can be a hefty investment. And in all cases, there is the matter of providing support for the events. A lesser known cut to any benefit for hosts is the many stipulations that FIFA demands of a hosting country. One example of these stipulations is the tax exemption on most related revenue. To further confound any definite determination of whether hosts win or lose, some countries offered difficult-to-track numbers, such as the number of jobs generated by hosting the event, as a quantified basis to support their winning position.

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For a more detailed analysis of the hosting question, which further highlights the disparate positions of wealthy nations and less wealthy nations hosting the World Cup, I recommend Juan Borga's thesis, Hosting the FIFA World Cup: An Economic Analysis of how the World Cup has Impacted the Economy of a Developed and a Developing Nation.

Soccer ball at the fore of a storm cloud moving across a soccer field.

Soccer ball at the fore of a storm cloud moving across a soccer field.

The Average Citizen's Connection

The first necessary point is to ask who the average world's average citizen is. According to statistics, including a study by National Geographic, the most typical human is a man in their late twenties. They have a cell phone and no bank account. They are Chinese and make less than $12,000 (US) per year. Based on this, it is unlikely the average citizen of the world will attend a World Cup. However, there is considerable viewing of the World Cup. In 2018, FIFA confirmed that approximately half of the people over the age of four watched the World Cup. And some estimate that 5 billion people will watch the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.

These statistics indicate that the average citizen of the world is likely to view the World Cup. But it remains a significant point that most will likely be watching the performance of world-class athletes. It seems unlikely they are tuning in to see the accomplishments of those three most rewarded parties of the tournament: FIFA, broadcasters, and sponsors and ticket sales. There are more subtle considerations, such as the nature of the event and the medium of delivery. But there seems to be a concerning gap between the spectacle the people are connected to and the business of that spectacle.

So, I leave you with a question. What is this phenomenon that we call the World Cup?

© 2022 EC Wells

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