The 2030 World Cup Is Going to Be Unbearable
And the 2034 contest will likely be even worse, for different reasons.
Generally speaking, it’s not a roaring sign of success when your sports tournament results in an 11,400-word Wikipedia article titled, “List of 2022 FIFA World Cup Controversies.” Still — not to be deterred by pesky little details like “extreme heat,” “flagrant sportswashing,” or “gross human rights violations” — FIFA has given a satisfied nod to the disaster that was Qatar 2022 and decided to do it all over again.
On Wednesday, FIFA announced that the 2030 World Cup hosting rights will be jointly awarded to three different continents: Europe, in the form of Spain and Portugal; Africa, in the form of Morocco; and South America, where Argentina, Paraguay, and Uruguay with each host one match at the start of the tournament in celebration of its centennial. The decision also effectively — and suspiciously — clears the way for Saudi Arabia to host the 2034 tournament, since it leaves only Asia and Oceania eligible to make a bid by the deadline later this month (and Asia’s soccer confederation has already conveniently endorsed Saudia Arabia).
Setting aside for a moment the possibility of bringing the tournament back to the Arabian Peninsula only a dozen years after Qatar, the 2030 World Cup decision is also seriously questionable. For one thing, human-driven climate change pushed temperatures in the three main host countries of Spain, Portugal, and Morocco to over 100 degrees Fahrenheit in April of this year, with the occurrence of such heatwaves on the rise. A summer tournament in seven years is likely to be sweltering and dangerous for the athletes. (None of the host cities are expected to be safe to even consider for such an event by 2088, one study found).
Fire season also begins on the Iberian Peninsula in June and July, when the tournament is traditionally held. This year, Spain and Portugal experienced their worst wildfires since 2017, when 100 people were killed. It’s conceivable that in 2030, matches will have to be canceled or postponed due to air quality concerns (then again, if this year was any indication, that could also be a problem for the North American World Cup in 2026).
Then there is the fact that the continental trifecta will require “an unprecedented amount of travel across distances and time zones, including 13-hour flights from Buenos Aires to Madrid,” The Associated Press reports. That’s taxing not just on the athletes and fans who decide to make the transatlantic journeys, but also results in unnecessarily wasteful emissions by spreading the tournament across hemispheres, rather than containing it in a smaller region or country where alternate forms of transportation could at least be considered between matches. If it was so important to FIFA that the centennial return home to Uruguay, perhaps it should have just … given South America the hosting responsibilities?
Of course, far more worrying is what the 2030 World Cup locks in: Saudi Arabia as the likeliest 2034 host. The petrostate would face almost all the same criticisms as Qatar, if not worse. The tournament, for example, will almost certainly need to be held in the winter again to avoid exposing athletes and fans to the deadly summer heat; it plays right into the hands of the Kingdom’s multi-billion-dollar sportswashing strategy; it will require new buildings and massive air conditioning capabilities that are inherently environmentally taxing; and it essentially rewards and legitimizes a nation that has largely avoided consequences for its egregious human rights violations because of the power vested in it by its fossil fuel reserves — reserves that, of course, are also responsible for the warming and destruction of our planet.
It’d be almost funny if it weren’t all so shameless. (Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has “built close ties to FIFA president Gianni Infantino in the past six years,” the AP dryly notes). But at least with this sort of lead time, we can get a head start on compiling the Lists of 2030 and 2034 FIFA World Cup Controversies. There’ll be plenty.