World Cup Bids and Saving the World

Photo by Rafael Alvez, through creative commons on

While most of the attention around the recent World Cup bidding scandal has rightfully gone to the layers of corruption embedded in FIFA’s current process, that has obscured another interesting angle to the story: the bid bribery was embedded in the nebulous way World Cup bids are supposed to serve development goals.  The two officials at the center of the scandal—Nigeria’s Amos Adamu and Tahiti’s Reynald Temarii—were both ostensibly asking for funds to build fields and a ‘sports academy’ to develop the game in their home regions.  The absolute certainty with which most of us dismissed those presumably worthwhile goals as a mere front for lining pockets is telling.  Most of us want to believe the game can do some good in the world, but many tangible efforts towards that end are immediately treated with skepticism. 

That skepticism is often well-merited.  Many FIFA efforts to contribute to development goals are vague and lack accountability; they seem rife for money laundering.  They also often seem to emphasize marketing images over substance, as with the heavy rotation of promotions for “20 Centres for 2010” during last summer’s World Cup (claiming to fund 20 ‘football for hope’ centers across Africa) that conveniently downplayed the fact that only four had actually begun construction by the time of the World Cup and only four others were in any stage of planning.  The missing 12 centers give an impression—rightly or wrongly—of a classic FIFA ‘money-for-development’ boondoggle. 

Of course, I’d rather have World Cup bids make commitments to development goals—as they are required to do—than ignore the issue entirely.  But at the same time I had a suspicion that the goals embedded in those commitments would vary significantly in their seriousness and quality.  I also thought looking at those commitments might be an interesting chance to explore ideas about how football mega-events such as the World Cup might actually do some good in the world.  So as much as was possible with the internet connection in my home office, I’ve put together an evaluation of the development and social responsibility components of the nine World Cup bids for 2018 and 2022 (the results of which are to be announced December 2nd).

The basic deal is that each World Cup bid is required to address (in addition to the more familiar information about stadiums, sponsorship, transportation, training facilities, etc.) how their hosting would help develop the game beyond just the elite level, and how the host would make use of the event for the greater good.  The detailed information on these bid components is presumably described in the full bid books—the hundreds of pages each aspiring host submits to FIFA for evaluation.  Those full bid books don’t seem to be publicly available, but each aspiring host does have a promotional web-site that outlines their bids and often offers an abbreviated ‘bid brochure’ with highlights of the full bid book. 

What follows is my effort to decipher that information, along with whatever related information I could find, to rank the World Cup bids on what is probably the hosting criteria of least interest to most fans: development and social responsibility (note that most bids do also offer information about their environmental impact—which I didn’t consider, though it could be construed as part of social responsibility).  In other words, I don’t imagine that these rankings will have much correlation with each bid’s actual chance of success (though it was clear in looking at the promotional materials that the favorites have more comprehensive bid information of all types).  I’d also emphasize that none of the publicly available information has much tangible detail about key issues such as funding commitments, so I’m judging mostly on concepts.  And finally, please keep in mind the rankings are my own subjective sense of those concepts: I’m just ordering them for the fun of debate.

Number 9 (ie, least impressive): Spain & Portugal

Maybe Spain and Portugal don’t need to worry about new development programs because they’ve already got it figured out (at least in terms of developing the game).  Or maybe they just didn’t make their plans available in English—the web-site was the least polished and available of any of the nine bid sites.  But what they did have just wasn’t much: “The Iberian Bid project seeks to become a great opportunity for integration by sharing with the whole world and with all the agents involved (delegations, spectators, mass media and FIFA itself) that the celebration of such an important event as the organisation of the Football World Cup is a real party.”

Aside from promising a good party, they do make a vague nod to “a range of programmes…to transfer our two federations’ experience and know-how to other countries…to support developing countries or people in need…[and] to promote development through football.”  They do also note a commitment to “dedicate 0.5% of its total budget to these and other projects,” which is certainly better than nothing.  But overall the available information gives the sense that Spain and Portugal are just paying lip service to this piece of the bid.

Number 8 (ie, also don’t seem to be paying much attention): Australia

The general information available on the Australia bid site is more impressive than that on the Spain and Portugal site, but I was surprised to find little attention to development and social responsibility.  Beyond one news note about a documentary on a team of refugee children, all I could find from Australia was a generic note that: “The Football Australia Foundation would be established to effectively manage the finals legacy in terms of football development, together with sustainable social and human development activities…It will work closely with FIFA and our other partners to deliver positive change through football.”  Which sounds like saying they’ll just do what FIFA tells them to do.  That may be smart politics, but it doesn’t make for an impressive effort at a social development legacy.

Number 7 (ie, some good concepts with little heft): South Korea

The big hope for the contribution of the South Korea bid is that it might facilitate rapprochement with North Korea.  As the South Koreans note on their bid web-site:

“Modern sports have always contributed to world peace in one way or another by emphasizing the importance of sportsmanship, honesty, trust, and cooperation between the competing parties for the purpose of a common game despite political and philosophical differences – or even hostility – between nations. A World Cup hosted by Korea is one of such opportunities to highlight the role of football and the World Cup as a catalyst to lowering tension and bringing peace to the world. There already have been talks about the possibility of cooperation with North Korea, if South Korea wins the hosting rights for the World Cup 2022.” 

If only it were as simple as football ‘bringing peace to the world.’  As any careful follower of the game knows, there are as many examples of global football causing political tension than there are of solving it—and while it would be interesting to see how North Korea bought into a South Korean World Cup, it would undoubtedly be more complicated than it sounds.  But other than that hope, the South Korean bid does not seem to have great ambitions for social development: they do note worthy attention to ‘football for all’ including existing ‘Morning Football Clubs’ where Koreans get together before work for a friendly kick-about (I wish there were one in my neighborhood).  But overall most of the hope here seems wrapped up in the tempting but problematic idea of sport as something that might cross the demilitarized zone.

 Number 6 (ie, made gestures to development, but only vaguely): Qatar  

The Qatar bid is in an intriguing position as regards social development potential, being the rare Arab League nation to bid for a World Cup.  One could imagine themes of bridging cultural divides, or creating opportunities for constructive dialogues.  Instead, most of the focus in the Qatar bid information seems to be on their plan for gleaming new stadiums, complete with outdoor air conditioning, and their prominent employment of an eclectic collection of football celebrity ‘bid ambassadors’ including Zinadine Zidane, Gabriel Batistuta, Ronald de Boer, Pep Guardiola, Roger Milla, and Bora Milutinovic.  They do, however, also seem to be putting some emphasis on ‘social responsibility,’ describing efforts such as working “with more than 30 schools in Qatar, Lebanon, Nepal, Pakistan and Syria to further develop football in under-served communities. We’ve rehabilitated 16 football pitches and built two FIFA standard pitches.”  They also promote a program called ‘Generation Amazing’ as comprising “our most ambitious social responsibility and football development initiatives.”  So far the main effort here seems to have been sending a group of about 25 children to the World Cup in South Africa.  And in regard to football development they emphasize how the government opened the ‘Aspire Academy for Sports Excellence’ in 2006, graduating 15 footballers last year.  But overall, granting that Qatar is a much smaller place than most World Cup hosts, these efforts still seem a bit limited in their scope.  Reaching out to 30 schools or 30 children is not a bad thing, but compared to the size of a mega-event like the World Cup or the glorious plans for new Qatari stadiums it just doesn’t seem ambitious enough.

Number 5 (ie, trying, but still lacking something): Russia

When it comes to worthwhile development through sports programs, I have a soft spot for building fields and facilities to offer access to under-served communities.  So I like the fact that Russia’s main ‘legacy program’ seems to be their ‘Stadiums for Children’ initiative, “which shall secure within the next five years to have more than 1000 additional artificial football pitches in the country. This of course proves the interest from the government to enhance the quality of local football. Not to forget the “Futsal for School” program, which is supposed to grow until 2015 from a total of 320,000 participating players at present to about 1.5 million players.”  The Russian bid also identifies as one of its main ‘supporting partners’ the ‘Art and Sport Foundation’—which sounds better than your usual multi-national corporation, even if a bit vague in their goals or funds.  The bid information also outlines support for “An array of existing programmes” including “The Health; World Football Community; 1Goal; Leather Ball; Football as a Social Phenomenon; Stadiums for Children; Project Goal” along with “Dedicated programmes for the FIFA World Cup: FIFA World Cup Community; Endurance Plus; Kick Start; Public Service Announcements; Peace Through Football; World’s Best Fans; Football in a Box.”  While this sounds a bit laundry-listish, I am most intrigued to know what ‘Football in a Box’ has to do with social development.  But I couldn’t find much detail.  And I’m also aware of a broader critique, well articulated by Miriti Murungi on Nutmeg Radio, that the Russian bid is most conspicuous for what it avoids addressing: racism in Russian football.  Overall there is some promise in the Russian bid information, but also many questions.

Number 4 (ie, an impressive effort that relies too heavily on Brand Beckham): England

England’s bid information seems to take development seriously—offering relatively elaborate plans both for developing the game in England and for using the game for good around the world.  I give the England bid credit for their points of emphasis (though I also wonder if they’re not over-promising, at one point claiming implausibly that ‘A FIFA World Cup in England will result in…one billion people worldwide being reached by development projects”).  But their main global initiative is ‘Football United’ which they call “A New and Sustainable Global Fund for Football” that aims “to help develop football in disadvantaged areas, break down social barriers, improve health and tackle other social issues.”  Then we learn that Football United “will align with the themes of the FIFA Football for Hope movement” and will “complement FIFA’s existing projects and funding streams.”  It’s not clear how ‘new and sustainable’ it will be if it is focused on just chipping in to existing work.  England also promotes “access to football for every girl in England,” which, though potentially a bit too ambitious, is one of the few bids to make the inclusion of girls and women a point of emphasis.  England should also get credit for already being one of the world leaders in using football as part of global development, with an impressive slate of existing projects described on their bid web-site

My biggest complaint with the England bid’s development and social responsibility initiatives, however, is that their most prominent efforts focus on a man who is masterful at striking a football, but totally unqualified to lead an international development effort: David Beckham.  He’s on the cover of their ‘bid brochure’ with smiling happy (non-white) children, and promoted in the highlights of their bid book as central to their development plan: “The David Beckham Academy and England 2018 will create and deliver a bespoke football and life skills project every year in each FAFA Confederation between 2012 and 2017…David Beckham passionately believes in football as a gateway to social and human development.  He has great experience in these areas and is personally committed to this project.”  Unfortunately, I’m not sure jetting in to play football in poor countries really qualifies as ‘great experience’ and I’m quite sure that Beckham—while he may have good intentions—does not know the types of ‘life skills’ necessary for getting by day to day outside the celebrity bubble.  Particularly considering that Beckham and his team couldn’t successfully sustain a ‘Beckham Academy’ in Los Angeles, it seems like an insult to development professionals everywhere to claim he is the right person to make the game ‘a gateway to social and human development’ around the world.

Number 3 (ie, I liked it more than I thought I would): USA

As an American academic, I wanted to be cynical about the US effort: I assumed it would be too corporate and too celebrity-driven.  But I was pleasantly surprised: relative to other bids, the US plans for a social development legacy actually demonstrate some thought and substance.  There is a hokey, Morgan Freeman narrated, video titled ‘I want to show you something’ putting a rosy picture on the US as a nation of happy immigrants (“The world’s home away from home” – if you can get over the walls at our borders).  But I suppose it is better for the bid to celebrate the multi-culturalism of the US rather than portray other false notions of what it means to be “true” American. 

The US bid also elaborates on more specific ideas than other bids (partially because the US bid seems to have made those entire chapters of their full bid-book available on-line: something I couldn’t find on any other bid site).  These “social change” initiatives are put under a schmaltzy slogan of “One on One, One by One” – but they do offer more specific and manageable goals than most other bids.  These include a “FIFA World Cup of Life” to promote worldwide access to clean drinking water, along with a “A social networking site that matches individuals and entities around the globe with projects in the developing world.”  They also promote some kind of partnership with Columbia University economist Jeffrey Sachs—who has been a major figure in an ambitious United Nations affiliated project of ‘millennium villages’ designed to be demonstrations of how focused use of resources and best-practices can enhance community level development in marginalized global communities.  The US bid thus includes a “an expansion of the 20 centres for 2010’ concept to promote the millenium villages” (though, as noted above, I have mixed feelings about the 20 centres intiative).  Finally, rather than turning over the social responsibility to a celebrity such as Beckham, the US bid also promotes “the establishment of the FIFA Institute for Social Change, a think- and action-tank designed to identify football-based practices and offer a variety of services to assist educators and community groups.”  I like the idea of trying to use actual experts (rather than just footballers) as a resource, even if a “FIFA Institute for Social Change” might end up an Orwellian paean to a multi-national organization that often seems determined to avoid internal change.

Number 2 (ie, some admirable ideas): Holland & Belgium

One of the kitschy themes of the Holland and Belgium bid presentation is ‘Seven Great Goals’ – of which two are prominent ‘social goals:’ “Creating 2,018 Open Football Clubs in Belgium and the Netherlands; [and] Setting up an extensive WorldCoaching (football) programme in developing countries.”  I’m ranking the Holland and Belgium bid highly because of the first of these goals.  Creating over 2000 open football clubs as ‘a contemporary local sports community centre’ with a “focus on health, respect and education, and…a crucial role to play in tackling current issues such as youth unemployment, obesity and the integration of minority groups” sounds like an initiative worthy of a World Cup—it focuses on using the game to provide broad-based access and resources that people can use in their own community.  It does seem that these centers would essentially be enhancements of the many existing football clubs in ‘the low countries,’ but I still really like the idea: successful development work is as much enhancing existing community strengths as it is about swooping in with paternalistic new prescriptions. 

I’m more hesitant about the second of these goals, phrased elsewhere as involving the creation of “10 WorldCoach Academies in collaboration with ‘Football for Hope Centres’ between 2010 and 2018” as part of a broader goal of training 2018 coaches around the world.  Though I can’t speak to Belgian coaching, my experience with the Dutch is that their coaches specialize primarily in explaining the superiority of the Dutch system.  After 2010, however, we have to wonder if that means training in how to break legs and insert studs into opponent chests without garnering any red cards.  Of course I shouldn’t stereotype—I do like the idea of using coach training as a part of community development, and the Dutch do have a proud tradition of good coaching.  I just hope they let the Belgians offer some suggestions.  

Number 1 (ie, most impressive): Japan

Partially because the Japanese bid has mostly gotten hype for its integration of technology, I was surprised to find their information suffused with ambitious goals related to development and global social responsibility.  Their primary tag line seems to be “Our dream: A world united through football” with a bid theme of ‘208 smiles:’ “Through the FIFA World Cup Japan wants to bring a smile to the faces of people in all FIFA’s 208 member countries.”  Ok, it’s a little saccharine, but I’m giving credit for the explicit effort to think about and integrate the rest of the world.  They also have ways of putting that thinking into action, including inviting “6000 children representing all of the 208 countries and regions affiliated with FIFA” to the final tournament as ‘World Cup Ambassadors’ with the chance to attend games, visit Hiroshima and Nagasaki, play in a kids tournament, and take part in workshops.

The Japan bid also seems to want to use the World Cup as a platform to promote existing efforts (rather than re-inventing the wheel) by, for example, offering a ‘Universal Fan Fest in 208 Nations’ offering “an opportunity through which various international and domestic organisations and bodies such as the United Nations, NPOs, local governments, and the private sector will be able to conduct activities to build the base for social development and a brighter future for all the countries and regions involved.”  They also note that “On 7 July 2009, JFA became the 93rd Japanese organisation to register with the United Nations Global Compact. Although FC Barcelona of Spain was already a participant, JFA was the world’s first sports organising body to sign up.  The United Nations Global Compact is a platform for UN agencies, private-sector companies, and non-profit organisations to address problems in the international community, in particular wealth inequalities resulting from globalisation.”  This was the only time in any of the bids where I saw any specific attention to wealth inequality—rather than just focusing on “poor countries” in isolation.

There were some things about the Japanese bid I didn’t care for; in their secion on ‘Contribution to World Football and Society,’ for example, they focus on how their “‘Freeviewpoint Vision’ 3D technology will expand business opportunities for FIFA and member associations.”  But overall I just got the sense that their whole approach to football was suffused with a long-term perspective and a global awareness: even the J-League has a ‘one hundred year vision’ that includes “Creating sports clubs where you can enjoy whatever sport you want, not only football.”

So if the sole criteria for hosting the World Cup was planning for development and social responsibility, I’d go with Holland & Belgium in 2018 and Japan in 2022.  Of course, the odds makers tell us those two bids are among the least likely to actually win—which may say as much about modern sporting mega-events as it does about the potential good that could (hypothetically) come from a World Cup.

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