Football, or soccer to you heathens across the pond, is a game that has evolved to become much more than a sport. It is a lingua franca across continents that are divided by languages, cultures and religions. Boasting an excess of four billion fans across the planet, football is undeniably the world’s most popular sport and for many nations, the FIFA World Cup is the ultimate culmination of training, talent and effort. The quadrennial, month-long international football festival hails a powerful array of social, cultural, and economic impact for the host country. Heavily covered by swarms of media, it is a powerful geopolitical tool, investment attractor, and soft-power instrument. Regardless of the outcome, the World Cup provides host nations with a powerful platform to showcase country and culture.
This year, the World Cup is being held in Russia, where we’re seeing the friendly and hospitable face of a nation that has been criticised regarding a range of political disputes in past years. Russia is in the hot-seat to show its professionalism as host and President Vladimir Putin is set on presenting a polished portrayal of his homeland to the eyes of the world. As any nation would, Russia is heavily invested in providing fans with a generous and friendly experience. The experience visitors take away from Russia is lasting and can impact consumer and investor confidence for years to come, and establishing a strong nation brand is crucial.
Notoriously expensive, it is widely disputed by economists and analysts whether hosting the World Cup boosts GDP in the long term, or whether the short-term expenses outweigh the benefits. Russia’s official budget for the international football tournament is roughly $11.8 billion at the current exchange rate, which is more than twice the preliminary budget set out by Russia when it won the hosting rights in 2010. This may seem high, but it’s significantly less than the estimated $15 billion spent by Brazil on the 2014 World Cup.
Shocking for some and delightful (schadenfreude) for others, to date, we have seen a lot of favored teams losing out early and being disqualified. As a German, my expectations were high as our incumbent champion team landed in Russia to compete. I found myself seeking out obscure German bars and pubs in London, such as Bierschenke just across the street from Deutsche Bank, to watch the games surrounded by inebriated compatriots and British waiters in Lederhosen. But, my beer-fueled excitement quickly turned to concern as my team struggled in opening games, and critically lost to South Korea. As an expat living in London, fortunately, I’ve been able to turn my support to my adoptive country and support England, in its seemingly unstoppable Cup crusade. Beyond the goals, costs and politics, the World Cup always presents a wonderful opportunity for nations to get to know another. I’m certain I wasn’t the only one googling Uruguay, and that there will be more people on holiday in Croatia next year. Together, people celebrate victories and commiserate losses, across geographies and cultures. For me, it provides an opportunity to feel closer to my home country regardless of where I am. But for now, I’m supporting England.