To be hosted by six countries across three continents to celebrate the 100-year anniversary of the first edition of the tournament, the 2030 Fifa World Cup will bring football to the world in a totally new way.
The announcement, made on October 4, 2023, has received mixed reactions from the global football community. For the host nations (Spain, Portugal, Morocco, Uruguay, Paraguay, and Argentina) who will automatically qualify, there is generally positive feedback. However, sceptics have wagged fingers in disapproval. Some of the reasons are sound, but some may require some context to appreciate how beneficial this celebration of football can be for the world.
A question of distance
A key issue raised against the format of the 2030 tournament is the geographical breadth of games, which will span from South America to Europe. While it is true that ardent fans who want to see majority of the 48 teams in action may struggle to do so, it is important to juxtapose that with the need for as many people to be able to access the world’s greatest football festival.
South America is the birthplace of this great tournament, and it will be amiss not to pay homage to its centenary, which is why having an opening match in Uruguay, Argentina and Paraguay makes sense – it brings the tournament full circle. There will be 104 matches in all, with the significant majority to be held in the Euro-North Africa axis. However, as we have seen in previous World Cup tournaments, South American fans have a culture of planning ahead for these tournaments and have, thus, shown that they will follow their teams to the four corners of the earth.
We saw how Ecuadorian, Argentine, Uruguayan and Brazilian fans filled venues at Qatar 2022; and at Russia in 2018, and South Africa in 2010.
There are seven years between now and 2030, and a memorable centenary games that most would like to experience, is surely one fans will plan for.
It is also instructive to note that the world is not new to the idea of hosting modern tournaments across large areas. Just two years ago, Euro 2020 (held in 2021) was beautifully staged across 11 cities in 11 countries. From Baku, near the Caspian Sea, to Seville in sunny Spain – a distance of over 6000km – it was all done flawlessly. The FIFA World Cup 2030 will seek to learn from the mistakes of that European championship, improve on sustainability initiatives, and provide responsible entertainment for its yet-to-be-confirmed host cities.
Reduced infrastructural costs
One of the headaches of hosting large sporting competitions is the significant investment in infrastructure required. Stadiums, hotels, and transportation systems do not come cheap, and they can run into billions of dollars. Co-hosting shares the burden, and 2030 highlights this well. Rather than hosting in a single country, costs can be shared among them.
A look at the six hosts reveal different infrastructural profiles. South American fans who may find travelling to Europe or North Africa too expensive have an excellent chance to enjoy three games on their own continent. African fans have long complained about stringent visa requirements into many nations that have denied them the World Cup experience, but in Morocco, that disadvantage is likely to be reduced significantly. With FIFA working with all host nations to facilitate visa acquisition during the tournament and even after – as was done with Qatar – travelling fans could see burdens eased.
A 2011 research paper from the University of Stellenbosch in South Africa showed that hosting the World Cup or Olympics increased tourism by about 8% on average. If recent World Cup tournaments are testimonies to go by, then the 2030 football showpiece could be a boon for the host countries, too.
Qatar’s Tourism Ministry is expecting a 347% increase in the number of visitors to the country by the end of 2023 as compared to 2022 – from 2.6 million to about 7 million. In addition, the country is expected to improve its 2021 ranking of 43rd on the World Economic Forum’s Travel and Tourism Development Index, and these gains are being attributed to the hosting of the Fifa World Cup.
More global exposure
No matter how well-known a country is, hosting the FIFA World Cup has shown to focus the eyes of the globe there in unprecedented ways.
Since 2010, South Africa, Brazil, Russia and Qatar – nations that are not traditionally among the global favourites, especially in the west – have successfully used the hosting of the tournament to project positive images of themselves. So much that in the specific cases of Russia and Qatar, they have been widely accused of sportswashing, that is, the practice of using sports to improve reputations tarnished by wrongdoing. Those claims are not universally accepted, but what is not in doubt is the massive attention these nations have garnered before and during the hosting of the competition.
The sheer worldwide publicity from the announcement of the 2030 hosts alone suggests that the next seven years will be a huge opportunity for them to use this exposure for growth. That is the power of the World Cup. For Africa, in particular, this is crucial as the tournament returns to the continent for only a second time in history. It has taken 20 years, but Morocco – if their recent hosting of many sporting tournaments, including the 2022 FIFA Club World Cup is any indication – will give the world an unforgettable African flavour.
Greater cultural exchange
From the Cerro Cetadel in Uruguay, the Morocco’s Merzouga Desert and the Santiago de Compostela in Spain and Portugal’s Jerónimos Monastery, fans looking for a unique World Cup experience in 2030 will find a lot of it. The landscapes are as incredibly diverse as they are filled with wonder, which will leave a distinct experience for those who dare to explore.
The last eight World Cup tournaments (from Korea/Japan 2002 to the last one in Qatar) have shown the depth of flavour football can elicit from around the world.
For all the inevitable disadvantages that may come, fans should expect nothing less than a net positive from the 2030 event.