Tue, Mar 20, 2018 - Page 13 News List

Are cities starting to see World Cup hosting duties as a poison

Chicago and Vancouver have both declined to be part of a North American World Cup bid, citing financial risks. Will others follow?

By Matthew Hall  /  The Guardian

The World Cup trophy is displayed during the 2018 soccer World Cup draw in the Kremlin in Moscow. Morocco says it will have to spend US$16 billion to prepare the country to host the 2026 World Cup, with every proposed stadium and training ground needing to be built from scratch or renovated. With less than three months until the FIFA vote, the north African nation presented details of its proposal to take on the joint bid from the US, Canada and Mexico.

Photo: AP

The North American bid for the 2026 World Cup, a joint venture between the US, Canada and Mexico, delivered its official pitch to FIFA on Friday with 23 cities listed as potential venues.

But behind the fanfare, four major cities — Chicago, Minneapolis, Vancouver and Glendale — told FIFA and the United Bid they didn’t want to be part of a World Cup. Local authorities from those cities cited heavy-handed requests from FIFA and the United Bid that included potentially huge taxpayer bills, as well as hosting contracts that exposed their cities and residents to immense financial and legal risk.

Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel announced on Wednesday that Chicago was out — even if the bid was successful. A city official told the Guardian that although Chicago considered itself a “big event city,” the requirements for the 2026 tournament “just didn’t feel right.” One demand from FIFA was that the organization could require Chicago to construct a dome over Soldier Field, the venue that hosted the 1994 World Cup opening game and would have hosted matches in 2026.

MONEY PITS

FIFA’s requirements also included an open-ended ability to modify the agreement at any time; no indemnity to protect the city or taxpayers from legal and financial risks; for Chicago to meet requirements that fall outside of its jurisdiction and authority and therefore could not be ensured; and for contracts to be governed and interpreted under Swiss law (FIFA is headquartered in Zurich).

The cities may well have looked at warnings from the past before pulling out: some venues used for recent World Cups in Brazil and South Africa stand as publicly-funded monuments to a demanding and brief affair with FIFA.

Cape Town Stadium, for example, has been a financial burden on the local government with calls for the 2010 World Cup venue to be demolished and replaced with affordable public housing. The stadium is losing a reported US$10 million annually and a recent idea to offer naming rights to a sponsor led internet jokers to suggest renaming the stadium “The Lonely Elephant” or “The Money Pit.”

Rio’s famed Maracana was a global icon used during the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics before legal battles and unpaid bills saw it fall into decay. A year after the 2014 tournament, Brasilia’s stadium was converted to a bus parking lot and Cuiaba’s never-quite-completed stadium hosted homeless people after standing idle — arguably both better uses for public money.

Stadiums are not just a problem for World Cups. Ten years after the 2004 Games, Olympic venues in Athens looked post-apocalyptic, while in Australia plans are underway to tear down the Sydney Olympic Stadium, which is now considered obsolete less than 20 years after it opened for the 2000 Games.

It’s something Chicago seems to have noticed.

“After conducting a robust due diligence process and participating in the World Cup 2026 United Bid Committee bid process, FIFA could not provide a basic level of certainty on some major unknowns that put our city and taxpayers at risk,” Matt McGrath, a spokesman for Mayor Emanuel said in an e-mail to the Guardian. “The uncertainty for taxpayers, coupled with FIFA’s inflexibility and unwillingness to negotiate, were clear indications that further pursuit of the bid wasn’t in Chicago’s best interests.”

Hosting World Cup matches could have provided soccer around Chicago with a legacy for generations — many American fans claim the 1994 tournament was a game changer for personal engagement — but Emanuel’s decision was applauded by the president of MLS club Chicago Fire.

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