《圣保罗页报》（Folha de São Paulo）举行的民意调查显示，对于世界杯的支持人数已从2008年的79%跌至如今的4%。
范德堡大学（Vanderbilt University）体育经济学家约翰•弗罗曼（John Vrooman）说：“世界杯是一个臭名昭著、糟糕的经济发展落脚点，对于发展中国家来说尤其如此。在以往的5个举办国中，4个都亏了钱”。南非在举办2010年世界杯后的经历便证明了约翰•弗罗曼的观点。
南非体育记者尼尔•柯林斯（ Neal Collins）表示，“南非为世界杯所修建的大型场馆如今基本上已变成了名副其实的白象（昂贵的摆设）。”
夸祖鲁纳塔尔大学（University of KwaZulu-Natal）南非建成环境与开发研究学院教授帕特里克•邦德（Patrick Bond）预计，南非在场馆建设方面花费了25亿美元，因为这些场馆使用率不高，而且每年的维修和运营补贴需要约1800-2400万美元。为了解决“白象”问题，南非的一个工会建议将一个不赚钱的体育馆改为低收入人群住宅。在巴西城市玛瑙斯，一位法官建议在世界杯之后将当地的一座体院馆改成监狱。
然而，举办世界杯的好处还是显而易见的。最近，在一篇名为《公共集资的私人收益》的研究中，密歇根大学（University of Michigan）的体育管理教授史蒂芬•斯茨曼斯基（ Stefan Szymanski）和联席作者巴斯蒂安•德拉特（Bastien Drut）发现，世界杯过后的5年时间中，世界杯举办国球队赛事的上座率上升了15-25%；据作者估计，在2014年世界杯后的5个赛季内，巴西俱乐部的收入至少能增加1.82亿美元。
在另一篇名为《举办世界杯，观众将来自何方？》（If you host it, where will they come from?）的报告中，斯茨曼斯基和联席作者发现，在南非2010年世界杯赛事期间，到访的非邻国游客为20万出头，而当年到访南非的非邻国游客接近50万，分别增长8.1%和18.7%。
In a mid-May meeting with sports journalists, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff used a local metaphor to say that once the World Cup began, Brazilians would forget their worries. “Once the jaguar drinks the water,” she said, “this country will go crazy.”
That Dilma (as she is known) hopes that the local populace will get swept up in the spectacle is understandable, considering the protests she’s endured over her government’s spending on the event.
At the opening ceremony for the Confederations Cup soccer tournament in Brasilia last June, Dilma and Sepp Blatter, the president of FIFA, which runs the World Cup, were booed by protesters demanding better education, healthcare, and transportation.
This May, demonstrators angry that the country was spending money on new stadiums — whose estimated costs have risen by half since 2010, to $3.5 billion — instead of low-income housing held another wave of protests in 18 Brazilian cities. Some held banners saying, “FIFA go home.”
Polls taken by the Folha de São Paulo show thatsupport for the World Cup has fallen from 79% in 2008 to 48% today.
Even Brazilian soccer star Pele has begun to complain.
“It’s clear that, politically speaking, the money spent to build the stadiums was a lot,” he said recently in Mexico City. “Some of this money could have been invested in schools, in hospitals.”
If history is any guide, Dilma will get her wish and public discontent will turn into happiness once the first game starts. But that euphoria will pass. And it won’t answer whether spending billions to host a World Cup makes economic sense, especially for a developing country in dire need of basic improvements.
“World Cups are notoriously bad economic development anchors, particularly in developing countries, and four of the last five hosting countries have lost money,” says John Vrooman, a Vanderbilt University sports economist.
South Africa’s experience since hosting the 2010 World Cup illustrates Vrooman’s point.
Like Brazil, South Africa built and upgraded several stadiums (10 in its case, compared to Brazil’s 12). And, as in Brazil, several were located in cities with no major professional teams to take them on after the Cup.
“The great South African stadiums built for the World Cup are largely white elephants now, appropriate given the setting,” says Neal Collins, a sports journalist in South Africa.
Patrick Bond, a professor at the University of KwaZulu-Natal’s School of Built Environment and Development Studies in South Africa, estimates that the country spent about $2.5 billion on stadiums that, because they are underused, require some $18-24 million in annual maintenance and operation subsidies.
In response to this ‘white elephant’ problem, a South African union proposed turning one unprofitable stadium into low-income housing, while in the Brazilian city of Manaus, a judge has suggested converting a new local stadium into a prison after the tournament.
Still, there are some clear benefits to holding a World Cup. In a recent study titled, “The private benefit of public funding,” University of Michigan sport management professor Stefan Szymanskiand co-author Bastien Drut found that soccer teams in countries that hosted World Cups saw an increase in attendance of 15-25% in the five years afterwards; the authors estimated that clubs in Brazil would see increased revenues of at least $182 million in the five seasons after the 2014 games.
In another recent report titled “If you host it, where will they come from?” Szymanski and his co-authors found that the 2010 World Cup in South Africa attracted a little over 200,000 extra visitors from non-neighboring countries during the tournament, and almost 500,000 during the year, increases of 8.1% and 18.7% respectively.
There are benefits on an individual scale as well. In apost-World Cup report, the South African government claimed that stadium construction created 66,000 jobs that generated over $900 million in wages.
But for those who question the stadium booms, the issue is not the spending, but what it buys.
“Who knows what the figures really were,” says Bond. “What was the value of the land? And what are the opportunity costs? Let’s say we spent that money on housing. We would probably have many fewer riots.”
Bond says that, had his country been content with having fewer new stadiums in fewer cities, it could have created “a more African-scaled World Cup rather than the most profitable World Cup with the richest taking and the most glorious stadiums.”
Szymanski says that the real problem is the way in which the World Cup is conceived as a luxury event for visitors.
“The World Cup is not about going to a stadium to watch. It’s a global television spectacle,” he says. “Instead of putting on the most lavish World Cup you could imagine in up-to-date stadiums with huge pieces of infrastructure that have no plausible long-term value to the nation, you need to say we’re going to award it to a country that deserves to host it and we’re not going to require it to invest. The broadcast rights would still be worth a lot of money and sponsors would still pay.”
For now, it seems unlikely that FIFA will turn its back on the most extravagant bids in order to offer the World Cup to the country that’s done the most to promote the sport. Until it does, the song will remain the same.
“Pretty much every World Cup and Olympics fits into the same story: An initial outpouring of popular support when you win the event. Then huge concerns of meeting deadlines and huge escalations of costs. Then the event happens and it’s a great success and people love it,” says Szymanski. “Then a few years later, people say, ‘What did we get for this?’”