If you’re ever having a bad day and need something to make you laugh, just remember that FIFA is technically a non-profit organization. It doesn’t take a particularly bitter and cynical mind to see the expanded World Cup as a naked grab for more money. The 2014 World Cup filled FIFA’s coffers to the tune of $4 billion, which, for an appetite as insatiable as FIFA’s, is but a hearty appetizer compared to what they’re eyeing for Russia in 2018 and Qatar in 2022. The largest stakeholders in international football, from sporting executives to corporate sponsors to greedy autocrats, stand to make a lot of money over the next decade.
On the other hand, there’s a quote from an episode of The West Wing (which is, in the interests of disclosure, one of my favorite television shows) that may be germane here: “Chinese political prisoners are going to be sewing soccer balls with their teeth whether we sell them cheeseburgers or not. So let’s sell them cheeseburgers.” Which is to say: political corruption, corporate greed, and repressive regimes all carry on just fine with or without the World Cup, and these problems would still exist in the world even if FIFA folded today. But football changes lives for the better. You can challenge the efficacy of the sport in said capacity, you can call it a minor externality, you can say the benefits don’t outweigh the costs. But corporate elites and autocrats are going to make a lot of money no matter what. If the power of football to improve quality of life and advance the cause of human rights can be expanded to more countries every cycle, it may just be worth it.