THE extension of the World Cup to 48 teams has, effectively, killed off the single host structure for future World Cups, certainly in Europe. With the exception of Germany, no individual nation in the old world can realistically hope to stage the competition – it is just too damn big. But we think there’s more to it than that. After all, we’ve all read about what goes on in sleepy Swiss cities.
With Europe’s current economic status, and the threat of EU disintegration unlikely to go away soon, it is perhaps no surprise that FIFA has very little in the way of European partnerships. Take the 2018 World Cup, the only out-and-out European partner/sponsor is Adidas. Elsewhere, FIFA’s acolytes are Russian (Gazprom and Alfa Bank), American (Coca-Cola, Visa, Budweiser, MacDonalds), Chinese (Wanda and Hisense) and South Korean (Hyundai).
It is clear that FIFA is tapping into the areas of the world where there is still liquidity, but its partnership programme appears to be rather lop-sided towards regions likely to win votes for the leadership. The most worrying development is surely the US who, by stealth, are trying to take over the global game. They cannot do it by sheer playing strength, but corporate money can influence the future of a sport they initially feared and then tried to make into an extension of Disneyland.
Admittedly, the current political noise coming out of Trumpland is aggressive and xenophobic but is geared towards appealing to the reddest of necks, but we now hear that the US is looking to make a joint bid for 2026 with Canada and Mexico – the very Mexico that Trump wants to keep out of the US by a Berlin-style wall the Mexicans themselves will be billed for. How hypocritical, how absurd is that? Furthermore, the current posturing coming out of Washington is possibly going to take the world to the brink of global conflict. If things go horribly wrong, there may never be a World Cup 2018, let alone 2026.
But it is probably a done deal. Why? It is clear that morals and common sense do not come into the granting of host status, otherwise Russia and Qatar would have been under closer scrutiny. FIFA has to tip the balance and the way to do that is to give the USA a chance to put on the show again. That will keep them quiet and stop the lawyers from digging around any further. Corporate America will also be happy, and so patronage will continue. And from a pragmatic point of view, who can really host a 48-teamer?
Finally, the World Cup is a doomed concept. International football is no longer the pinnacle of the game and the competition has become “showtime”, an occasion rather than sport. Those that buy into style over substance, of consumerism-driven “occasions” that are about “being there” rather than an appreciation of the very best football can offer, will still flock to the World Cup. The US knows how to make Hollywood out of everything, so 2026 in North America would be a financial success, attract huge hot-dog and cola-guzzling crowds and plenty of high-fives. Its success is already being drafted by the spinners. Hopefully, the trophy won’t be presented by one Donald Trump, because you know what?, Mexico may even win this one if they can bend the ball round the wall.