Does hosting the World Cup leave a legacy?
Countries usual bid to host major sporting events on two premises: 1) that the event will boost the economy and 2) that it will leave a sporting legacy.
The first premise is not supported by any reputable research; in the case of the World Cup, FIFA tends to gobble up most of the tournament’s benefits. But what of leaving a legacy? In the case of football, do national teams get better after hosting a World Cup?
An examination of Elo ratings of World Cup hosts suggests not, on the whole. The chart below normalises the Elo ratings of hosts between 1974 and 2006 such that progress is compared to the year of hosting. And although individual trends are hard to pick out, it’s clear that only a handful of countries can claim to have improved the team after hosting the tournament – whether by coincidence or through the power of a legacy.
The United States’ success is the notable outlier, and many commentators would agree that hosting the 1994 World Cup had a profound effect on the popularity of the sport. But for other developing countries – in footballing terms – the effect has been less notable, with Korea, Japan and Mexico failing to capitalise on the buzz of having the tournament at home.
The general trend is that the national team improves after winning the right to host the World Cup, but future generations are unable to sustain this after the tournament. Admittedly, improvements are harder to sustain for the top football nations.
In the case of Germany, who were awarded the competition in 2000, it’s widely acknowledged that reforms at grassroots levels have been the precursor to success in the early part of the 2010s. While hosting the World Cup in 2006 has undeniably boosted the country’s interest in the sport, it would be wrong to consider it to be the primary reason for improvements.
It remains to be seen whether South Africa, Russia and Qatar will enjoy a sustained sporting benefit from hosting the tournament.