The Finances Behind the 2022 World Cup

By Adam Lyjak

With the 2022 World Cup officially underway in Qatar, people all around the world are flocking to the stadiums and to their TVs to watch their countries play soccer on the biggest stage. Statistically the largest sporting event in the world with a predicted average of 5 billion spectators expecting to tune in to this year’s tournament, it’s no secret that the World Cup requires ample planning to entice the globe’s viewership. With the tournament only taking place every four years, host nations are required to be adequately prepared both financially and with infrastructure. From building venues and residences to preparing the teams and players, the hosts need to be dedicated to working hard to support the mass inflow of tourists flying in to watch the tournament. With so much riding on the tournament’s success, how exactly does the money get efficiently allocated, and which people are behind these decisions for the 2022 World Cup?

When Qatar—a small, extremely wealthy Middle Eastern nation—was selected to host the World Cup in 2010 by the FIFA Executive Committee, it was considered a monumental risk (Craig, 2022). To those knowledgeable of the inner workings of FIFA and the general landscape of the World Cup, this decision and the degree to which it would pay off for FIFA and Qatar itself was in question. Among others, then-FIFA President Sepp Blatter stated that selecting Qatar was a “bad choice” because of how small the nation was and its ill-equipped ability to handle the vastness of the event and being under the world’s microscope(Craig, 2022).

Fast forward to 2022 and the completion of the project, numerous media accounts have confirmed that Qatar spent $220 billion on the World Cup—a staggering 15 times more than Russia did in 2018 as the previous hosts (Craig, 2022). Surprisingly enough, less than $10 billion was spent on the construction of the Qatari stadiums. The majority of the funds were actually spent on hospitality, transportation, and telecommunications. In Doha, the capital city of Qatar, $36 billion alone was spent on creating an extensive metro system, new airports, and new hotels to help alleviate the large crowds coming in from around the world (Zimbalist, 2022). This project was always going to be a massive financial commitment for Qatar. To put it into perspective, Qatar’s annual average GDP is around $180 billion. Having been awarded the World Cup in 2010, the country has spent an average of $18.3 million each year, amounting to about 10% of its yearly GDP (Zimbalist, 2022). By comparison, Russia, the host of the 2018 World Cup, spent around $14 to 15 billion USD and has an annual GDP of about $1.7 trillion. Russia’s GDP is a staggering 9.5 times greater than Qatar’s, and they spent substantially less money on the World Cup. Because of the small size of Qatar and the limited real estate, most of the stadiums will be dismantled after the tournament once they are devoid of their use and transformed into schools, health clinics, cafes, and other service buildings (Craig 2022). Fortunately, some of the new infrastructures will continue to remain a useful contribution to Qatar after the soccer tournament. For example, the highways connecting cities and stadiums will make longer travel quicker and more efficient. While all of these figures fall on the cost side of the book, what about the revenues?

When it comes to the tournament’s revenue, it is important to differentiate between the revenue FIFA is receiving compared to the revenue Qatar itself will obtain. According to Forbes, FIFA is reaping 7.5 billion USD of revenue while Qatar is receiving only 1.56 billion USD. Qatar’s revenue is primarily coming from tourism and business travel. Although this seems like a tiny number compared to what they are spending, the reality of is that most World Cup host nations do not end up profiting from having the tournament on their soil. Many things built for the tournament are often unable to be turned back into hard cash. For a wealthy nation like Qatar, the overarching goal hope of hosting this tournament is not centered around the amount of money they will make. With billions of soccer fans tuning in from all around the world, Qataris hope that their country will make an impression on the world and put them on the map. If all goes well, hosting this event could result in a more significant role in foreign trade, world politics, and tourism (Craig, 2022). 

Qatar’s economy is already experiencing a near-term boom. With just over a million tourists in Qatar for the tournament, the domestic demand for food and hospitality services has exponentially increased and will provide a boost to its already growing economy (Taylor, 2022). Longer term, however, Qatar’s compensation for hosting the World Cup is more complicated to quantify than just monetary figures. With the confirmed news from multiple sources that Qatar dangerously treated and exploited the workers they employed to build infrastructure for the tournament, the 2022 World Cup already had a negative connotation long before it kicked off. According to Taylor, many European cities have avoided broadcasting games to the public due to the cruelty that was allowed behind the scenes during the construction of the stadiums. This tension between Qatar and other Western countries would put Qatar in an even more difficult spot given the lingering issues with other Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries. Luckily for Qatar, a successful World Cup could go a long way in the world accepting the nation as a desirable destination to visit or reside in. The Qatari government is expecting triple the number of annual tourists in 2030—up from 2 million in 2019 to 6 million by the end of the decade (Taylor, 2022). The hope is that some of the structural frameworks will be preserved and used to support new visitors in the future. 

The main takeaway that host countries come to realize after hosting the World Cup is how much of a laborious and financial project it is. The countless hours and dollars spent to accommodate teams, locals, and tourists while adhering to land and economic policies show that the rewarding satisfaction of hosting a successful event does not come without extreme monetary impacts.