SPORT: How to screw up the national finances – host a big tournament.

This from the England 2018 World Cup bid team nine days ago:

‘The 2018 bid chief executive, Andy Anson, promised to stage the most profitable World Cup in history, as well as establishing a new charitable foundation called Football United that will raise hundreds of millions of pounds and invest it in projects around the world.’

We have heard this so many times before. ‘A foundation that will raise hundreds of millions of pounds’: it’s a bit of a cavalier promise isn’t it – rather like the sort of thing George Galloway says just before the fraud squad moves into his offices.

South Africans are already regretting hosting the tournament. When the initial estimate of World Cup stadium costs was made by South Africa, it was set at some 2-3 billion Rand. Based on current visitor estimates, there’s no way the SA Government would recoup that investment; but over the last few months, officials have been predicting the final bill will come in around 13 billion Rand. It is a staggering increase, but also a typical example of the mad enthusiasm that descends on everyone asked to stage anything to do with big-money sport.

The 1990 World Cup cost Italy £550 million. The economic benefit has been variously described since as neutral to negative. In 2002 the host country Japan made a whopping loss: ticket sales were £1.4 billion, and FIFA gave the country £100 million – but the all up cost was £4.7 billion.
Even the Germans made only a measly £56.4 million on their staging of the World Cup in 2006: and if Germany can’tmake money out of something, then it just isn’t possible. (Versus the cost of staging the thing, this represented a net profit margin of 0.4%)

To be fair, what tends to happen is that merchandisers, sponsors and small entrepreneurs who know what they’re doing usually make tons of money. But the taxpayer coughs up in the end. And when closely examined, the ‘social benefits’ never seem to be very clear; on the whole, they evaporate when quizzed carefully.

Looked at more broadly, the EU has estimated that when the soccer World Cup tournament is played on another continent, the loss to economic output is £.8.1 billion -either through people watching at a late/early hour and then calling in sick, or just taking a sickie for the whole two weeks to see the finals in person.

When the UK won the ‘right’ to stage the Olympics in 2005, the nation went bonkers. I mean literally, bonkers. That night I saw people falling over outside every bar in the land: it was like VE-Day meets the Millennium Party. I wrote a piece the next day on nby saying this was the worst thing that could happen to us, and was showered with hate-mail. Who is really pleased to see us coughing up £9.3 billion for this jamboree today? I bet George Osborne isn’t. And just watch the total (which started at £4.8 billion, by the way) creep up to £12 billion by 2012.

Yet here we go again, with Brainless Beckham the autistic free-kick genius leading the pack of loons just gagging to lose yet more money in 2018.

Lord Triesman has already seen his career knackered by daring to suggest that Russians bribe people (surely not?) and the Spaniards have been at it too. Fine, let them do it: let’s save some much needed cash and withdraw now. By 2018, every country will be so broke, FIFA will have to stage the thing itself anyway.

Finally, there seems something oddly masochistic in the way that the IOC and FIFA go out of their way to choose dangerous and unstable locations, and/or places not renowned for being able to get up in the mornings. Choosing Russia was asking to be boycotted, choosing China gave a free show for the worst human-rights record in the world, choosing Italy was a free gift for the mafia, choosing Greece was…well, let’s not go there. Now we’re in South Africa. Next time no doubt, they’ll go for Haiti or Tibet. Penalties in Tibet will be decided on the basis of Zen: ‘the ball will go in the net if you wish it so, grasshopper’.

Anyway, the year after next the Olympic spotlight is on us, and I don’t really want to think about it. After eight years of observing that New Labour couldn’t arrange a sex orgy in a Hippy colony, the IOC of course chose us to organise the Olympic Games. They did this, mind you, without knowing that Tessa ‘I’ll sign anything’ Jowell was going to be in charge. The booby traps there might be in the Olympic budget by now are probably beyond our understanding.

There still a chance we might pull it off without disgracing ourselves or attracting every barmy celestial-slapper seeker on the planet, because the ToryDems have a clear two years to sort out what the nutters have been up to. But just a casual glance at some of the ‘preparation’ does not bode well. The road into the main sailing centre at Weymouth has one lane either way. It was going to be widened, but NIMBY scotched that one. So the New Labour spin-solution is that everyone will get the train. Except that the research says they don’t want to.

All this pitching hysteria is an even bigger nonsense than paying knuckle-draggers £90,000 a week to lose all their shareholders’ money – and on a par with taxpayers coughing up $23 trillion dollars to rescue people who make up most of the top 0.3% of wealth. And those observations give me an idea.

My solution is that every World Cup and Winter/Summer Olympic Games should henceforth be staged by Switzerland. Organisationally, financially and fiscally, there is no nation anywhere on Earth better equipped than the Swiss to run highly successful money-spinning events in which all the accommodation is clean, all the pitches and tracks are perfect, and everyone who misbehaves is immediately fined and/or deported. The country also, of course, has more mountains than the Moon for the winter events, and no mafia. But above all, it remains the real centre of banking, and is more discreet than a bottomless liquidity pool. Thus it ticks every last box.

The cost, organisation, profiteering and underwriting of all such tournaments would be the responsibility of half a dozen sponsors: PIMCO, Goldman Sachs, J PMorgan, Santander Bank, HSBC and the IMF. Thus would be created the perfect way to make ordinary people start being concerned about how banks operate: put them in charge of sports. For it would take these dark institutions off the front and business pages of our press – and onto the back pages, which are all that most blokes care about.

Everyone saves money, Switzerland makes money, taxpayers are relieved of the burden, and banks come under much closer scrutiny. This sounds like a win-win-win-win idea to me.