Column: Though DC is qualified to host the World Cup, drawbacks outweigh benefits

The economic and social impacts of bringing FIFA to DC do not serve best interests of residents

Column: Though DC is qualified to host the World Cup, drawbacks outweigh benefits
The economic and social impacts of bringing FIFA to DC does not serve best interests of residents

For the first time since 1994, the U.S. will be home to the 2026 FIFA Men’s Soccer World Cup, and D.C. has positioned itself as a viable candidate to serve as a host city.

In 2018, FIFA voted to accept a joint North American bid that granted the 2026 World Cup hosting rights to America, Canada and Mexico. Led by Mayor Muriel Bowser and the newly created DC2026 advisory board, D.C. formally launched its campaign to be selected as a host city for the tournament on June 30, 2020.

While Mexico and Canada have offered up two potential host cities each, D.C. is a finalist among 17 other American cities to host matches. D.C. would primarily host matches at FedExField, the home of the Washington Football team.

According to FIFA delegates, FIFA aims to make a final decision on which cities will host games in the last quarter of 2021, evaluates each city based on not only the quality of the soccer facilities but also the city’s overall infrastructure, soccer history and commitment to values like diversity, global reach and a commitment to human rights. 

It is hard to imagine that D.C., the capital of America, the home to some of the most powerful politicians and host of over 180 embassies, would not be selected by an organization that emphasizes their global influence. 

As has been extensively advertised by DC2026 advisory board members and Mayor Bowser; D.C. is one of the most racially diverse metro areas, according to a Bloomberg report. The city has also already proven its ability to successfully host international soccer games, including matches from the 1994 Men’s World Cup, 1996 Olympics and the 1999 and 2003 Women’s World Cup. D.C. is the only city in the United States to have hosted three World Cups and soccer matches for the Olympic games. 

All of these qualifications were neatly laid out in the Sept. 21 press event that brought together FIFA delegates, Mayor Bowser, members of the DC2026 advisory committee, delegates from both Mexico and Canada, as well as the press for the first time in person since the coronavirus pandemic began. DC2026 advisory board members predictably reemphasized D.C.’s diversity, accommodating infrastructure and history of success in soccer on the international and local level. 

“Washington, D.C. is one of the world’s most recognizable cities and a global hub of culture with world-class infrastructure,” co-chair of DC2026, Max Brown, said at the event. “Making it the premier destination for large-scale, international events ... and we are a soccer city and region.”

But the hosting campaign has spent little time demonstrating how bringing the game to the city will benefit D.C. or its residents in the long term. 

The most convincing point made during the event that addressed how D.C. residents would benefit from hosting the World Cup was the description of the DC Scores organization, which is a non-profit that launched following the 1994 World Cup games and involves helping underprivileged kids with soccer, academics and artistic endeavors. DC2026 pledged to continue growing this organization but did not specify the extent to which the commitment to this program relied on FIFA ultimately selecting D.C. as a host city. 

However, there remains significant evidence that D.C. would ultimately not benefit from hosting a FIFA event. 

The purported values of diversity and human rights that FIFA prioritizes in their search for World Cup host cities is not something the organization itself has consistently embodied. FIFA has a long history of corruption in which the organization has consistently favored financial gain over punishing human rights violations. The upcoming 2022 World Cup has already been put under for corruption that granted Qatar hosting rights, but even more importantly over 6,500 migrant workers have died since the country was granted the World Cup. Many of these deaths have been attributed to the inhumane construction projects the country has undergone to accommodate the World Cup. FIFA has refused to move the World Cup away from the country, despite protests last spring from citizens of Qatar and teams that will be playing in the upcoming games.

When Hungary fans hurled racial epithets at members of the England national team, most observers saw FIFA’s punishment of a sanction and one-game ban as poorly implemented and not even close to harsh enough by most observers. 

FIFA’s unwillingness to take effective action in the face of racism and other human rights problems could bring unwanted problems to the district. Mayor Bowser recognizes this problem but asserts it is a problem D.C. is willing and able to handle if it arises.

“We have an opportunity to showcase our values to the world and demonstrate why the game should not be affected by racism,” Bowser said at the press event. “We want that opportunity and are well-positioned to take it.”

While Bowser may be right in saying D.C. is prepared to combat racism, the potential tensions that could arise as well as the overall stink surrounding FIFA productions are a cause for concern. 

According to Bowser and the DC2026 Advisory Board, hosting the World Cup would bring an expected 500 million dollars and 3,500 additional jobs. However, there is significant debate regarding whether hosting the World Cup benefits the countries that host in the long term. Although 2026 is still several years away, there is no telling what the long-term economic impacts of the pandemic will have on D.C. or FIFA, which could heighten the importance of this financial reality. 

Though D.C. is qualified to host World Cup games and FIFA will most likely be unable to avoid the qualifications of America’s capital city, it doesn’t mean it’s the right move for the district.

aerickson@theeagleonline.com 

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