In a controversial turn of events, the men’s FIFA World Cup 2026 will be hosted by three nations – Canada, Mexico and the United States of America – for the first time in its history. While this seems an entirely new concept, it is not the first time multiple countries have co-hosted the World Cup. In 2002, both South Korea and Japan hosted the football tournament, despite previous frosty relations between the two. The co-hosted 2002 competition was deemed a success, particularly by South Korea. There is no doubt that multiple countries can host the stupendous tournament, but I question if they should.
The World Cup is a monumental, yet expensive tournament to host, both economically and environmentally. It can certainly be controversial – look no further than the issues raised as a result of Qatar’s hosting of the 2022 World Cup. Perhaps co-hosting is the way forward – sharing the benefits and costs of hosting the grand tournament. Certainly, FIFA appears to believe it is having also recently settled on a multi-continental proposal for six countries – Spain, Portugal, Morocco, Uruguay, Argentina and Paraguay – to host the centenary World Cup in 2030. The first World Cup was held in Uruguay in 1930, and this is where the first 2030 match is expected to be held. Saudi Arabia has already expressed their wish to be the sole host of the 2034 games, but once we start formally changing the structure of the tournament by sharing it amongst multiple countries, will we want to go back to a single host nation?
FIFA recently settled on a multi-continental proposal for six countries to host the centenary World Cup in 2030.
Qatar spent a record sum of $300 billion on infrastructure projects to host the World Cup 2022. They had to build seven new stadiums, as well as the travel infrastructure to access them. This is a lot of money and resources used when other countries had stadiums readily prepared. Therefore, if several countries host the World Cup, the economic and environmental cost of building entirely new stadiums can be reduced. In this respect, a shared World Cup could mean a more sustainable World Cup.
Furthermore, the competition bring countries together. The tournament promotes inclusivity – there will now be 48 teams, the 2026 edition inviting sixteen new additions. It is an opportunity to expose fans to people from different countries and come together to join in a fun, competitive nature. The World Cup entices tourists from all over the globe to the host country, often economically improving the local area through the positive multiplier effect. In the upcoming tournaments, this will benefit more countries, potentially improving global wealth. If done well, the new structure offers an opportunity to improve international relations: a community of nations working to produce one magnificent, global tournament.
However, if it’s not done well, it could deteriorate international relations, whereby one nation may blame another for its downfall. Equally, this raises the question of how to ensure consistency across the countries. Is it fair that different teams may play in different climates? Also, the number of host countries are seemingly increasing each year, from three in 2026 to six in 2030, yet the rule that all host countries automatically qualify remains. That’s an eighth of participating countries automatically qualifying into the 2030 World Cup. What will this mean for sporting nature of the football competition? Could more deserving teams not qualify?
FIFA is a huge organisation with the power and potential to make the World Cup more environmentally friendly, yet we are constantly let down by them on matters of social and environmental justice.
FIFA is a huge organisation with the power and potential to make the World Cup more environmentally friendly, yet we are constantly let down by them on matters of social and environmental justice. In the lead up of the tournament, there were claims of Qatar being the first carbon neutral World Cup, yet this was not fulfilled, with estimates suggesting the tournament generated more CO2 than any prior. FIFA is part of the UNs Sport for Climate Framework, agreeing to commit to immediate climate action, yet what are they actually doing to help the current global climate emergency? Hosting games in numerous countries is likely to lead to increased air travel (and therefore CO2 emissions), by players in their private jets, as well as by proud, avid football fans supporting their national team wherever they go. A suggestion to FIFA would be to focus ticket sales on local fans to limit international travel, although I am sure this would be met with much backlash.
Overall, the success of the competition relies on good communication and environmentally friendly practices. Perhaps instead of having it across six countries, we aim to have a carbon neutral game, as previously advocated for. Climate action from FIFA is long overdue. It is unlikely that the reduction in material resources and building of stadiums will offset the CO2 production from travel. In a dire climate emergency, is this the best time to be hosting the tournament across six countries and three continents?