Who can host the World Cup?

Question came up today on Twitter: We know Russia and Qatar were controversial choices. Who would be a good World Cup host?

I’d set out these criteria:

  1. Stable, non-authoritarian government
  2. Ability to build venues without creating a class of slave laborers
  3. Demonstrated interest in the sport

Then a “nice to have” rather than a “must have”: Ability to get from venue to venue without getting in an airplane or spending a full day on trains.

Most of the past World Cup hosts have been up to the task. In 1950, Brazil helped the World Cup, which had only been contested three times before World War II, regain a foothold in international sports. Chile, in the pre-Allende and pre-Pinochet days, overcame a devastating earthquake to host in 1962. Mexico (1970, 1986) and the USA (1994) had heat issues but were otherwise pretty good, with the USA smashing attendance records.

The worst World Cup host of my lifetime was surely Argentina in 1978. The horrors of torture and slaughter, coinciding with a suspicious win for the host country, are chronicled in a recent Wright Thompson story for ESPN’s magazine. (Update: Here’s the link. Also, I fixed the year. My brain is mush.)

Most European hosts have been just fine, though my highlights from the 1990 World Cup in Italy showed a lot of empty seats.

The 2002 World Cup had two good hosts in Japan and South Korea who shouldn’t have had to share. The 2010 World Cup was a lot to ask from South Africa.

It’s only now that we’ve hit a rut. Brazil probably could have pulled off a decent World Cup but insisted on some oddities like building a stadium far up the Amazon in Manaus. Far too ambitious.

Russia is … well, it’s Russia. Not too interested in getting along with the rest of the world these days. They plan to build a bunch of new stadiums. The Sochi Olympics didn’t fill anyone with confidence.

Then there’s Qatar, the most ghastly hosting decision by a major sports organization. Exploited workers are dying. FIFA has suddenly realized it’s hot. The bid process was 50 shades of shady.

So what would be better?

Call it Western bias if you like, but most past hosts would be fine. England is surely overdue. The USA would be even better today than it was in 1994, though I’d prefer some geographic consolidation.

The better question would be where the World Cup can go next.

Australia had a solid bid for 2022. It’s the one place that offered a solo bid in the 2018-22 fiasco that hasn’t already hosted.

After that, back to England. Then maybe perennial bidder Morocco?

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  1. Let Mexico host the World Cup again. IMHO the two most successful World Cups ever held were in Mexico in 1970 and 1986. 1970 had Brazil with Pele and 1886 had Argentina with Maradona. The 1986 FIFA World Cup was supposed to be played in Colombia, but economic difficulties in Colombia forced FIFA to move the World Cup back to Mexico after they had hosted it only 16 years earlier. The World Cup CAN be moved on pretty short notice, so if FIFA decides to hold the 2026 World Cup on the far side of the moon, they can change the venue on pretty short notice when they realize it won’t be feasible. Mexico has been a magical place for FIFA’s World Cup and should host the event every 16 years.