Is the World Cup a giant waste of money?

Brazil is also about to discover two immutable rules of major sports events.

First, that tourism is never boosted. During the event itself, whether it’s London or Beijing or Johannesburg, visitor levels will plummet: The number of people drawn by the event will be dwarfed by the numbers of regular tourists who stay away because the big event is on. Sometimes, as in Greece, South Africa or Australia, it takes years for normal activity to recover.

Second, that the economy is never boosted enough to justify the cost. Governments constantly produce “impact assessments” showing huge employment and economy gains from sports-event spending. But a review in The Sport Journal of numerous analyses of economic outcomes found “the effect of these events on host communities to be either insignificant or an order of magnitude less than the figures espoused by the sports promoters.” The cost is always greater than the benefit.

Governments and voters are increasingly aware of these effects. Bidding for the 2022 Winter Games has almost ground to a halt. Bids from Krakow, Stockholm, Munich, Davos, Oslo and Lviv have been withdrawn or imperilled, most because governments and voters have concluded, in the words of sports writer Barry Petchesky, that “the whole thing is one huge, useless waste of money.” The last remaining bids are likely to be from two dictatorships, Kazakhstan and China.