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Is hosting worth it?

Protests at the Confederations Cup in Brazil show problems behind the honour of staging a World Cup.
Last modified: 28 Jun 2013 17:47

Brazil. World Cup hosts, Olympic hosts. 2014-2016.

What an opportunity, what an honour, what a privilege and a pleasure. 

But during a fraught fortnight off the pitch at the Confederations Cup, the Brazilians - and FIFA - have been reminded that hosting is a double-edged sword. Underestimating the power of the public can have major consequences, whether or not their ire is deserved and whether or not the event is actually the cause of the trouble.

There was a lazy perception of Brazil as being so full of fun and samba, carnival and beach volleyball that they are automatically the perfect country to embrace a sports event. That the people would be grateful.

And let's be clear many millions do welcome the biggest two events on earth coming to Brazil.

But the scale of the unrest in major cities initially surprised, then alarmed, then gave cause for discussion, debate and disagreement. The majority of protestors have used the spotlight as an opportunity to highlight the problems facing their lives and the Government's part in this. Health care, or lack of, transport. Poverty.

Again there were presumptions that these were direct protests against the money spent on football. An oversimplification. Most Brazilians were not alive the last time the World Cup was here in 1950, but that doesn't mean the focus and the money can be taken away from improving lives, saving lives.

The supposed cancellation of the tournament proved to be an exaggeration but an uncomfortable fortnight for FIFA, to say the least.

Mr Blatter, as per usual form, didn't quite capture the public mood, saying:

"I can understand that people are not happy, but they should not use football to make their demands heard."

It must be tiring to defend him constantly. It's certainly tiring to hear the defences of a comment that showed such a lack of understanding of what was going on around him.

Some comfort for FIFA should come from the London Olympic team who have forged such strong links with Brazil. While the British public didn't take to the streets, the concern over costs and 'hosting a giant party at public expense' were simmering for years, along with the threat of security breaches and traffic chaos.

By the time the party started the public couldn't get enough of it. It's probably the best thing to have happened for the national mood for decades, possibly ever. Oh we of little faith etc.

Is the legacy really working? Partly. The IOC say it takes at least a decade to measure properly. We'll hold them to that. But it was a successful Olympics, no doubt. 

And then there's the crucial aspect of how the host team performs. British gold, lots of it, inspired the public. In football, South Africa's great start in 2010 was a relief beyond that country and that continent. German football is still feeling the benefits of 2006.  

And what about France ‘98? The team got it right just in time to make it a successful World Cup. I covered the whole thing and it really hadn't taken off properly until the knockout stages. Then the comeback against Croatia got millions more over-excited. And when Brazil were tamed in the final the scenes in Paris were incredible. Hundreds of thousands were around us as images of their multi-cultural heroes were projected on to the L'Arc de Triomphe. It's okay to use football if it's for a positive. 

Positive benefit?

Hosting can be the best chance a team has to win the tournament and inspire their people. England fans will certainly second that.

But with Russia pouring money into 2018, with all the fuss about Qatar 2022, is hosting worth it?

For UEFA the answer is clearly ‘no’. Their controversial decision to spread the 2020 Euros to 13 cities shows what they think about the strain on one or two host nations. I was in the room in Kiev last June when Platini raised it, and there were looks of bewilderment and surprise to accompany the raised eyebrows. Do you not agree it's a great shame it's come to this? I reckon France 2016 will be a great tournament.

When the action starts in Brazil next year will there be further riots and disorder? It's possible. But the World Cup is not the Confederations Cup. Yes it's been an exciting tournament on the pitch, but as Brazil get closer to a sixth World Cup victory, are the public going to be absorbed by the football? Almost certainly.

It might still be a case of tears not tear gas. When Uruguay stunned the hosts in the Maracana in 1950 the Brazilians were so distraught it had a lasting effect on the players who had inflicted the misery, from both sides. And winning the tournament won't be easy.  My gut still says Argentina will win. Best not get into their hosting in 1978. They won but ... any mass protests under that regime would have been crushed by the junta.

The Brazilians don't want to spoil the party. They won't turn their back on football, they just want better lives. Ironically with their humanitarian work FIFA try to improve lives too. 

Let's hope for Brazil, hosting proves to be worth every dollar. The Confederations Cup has reminded us that hosting is not just about the football.

This column appears on the Insideworldfootball.com website where Lee Wellings represents Al Jazeera.