This morning the ONS announced that the UK’s economy shrank by 0.5% in the month of December. In spite of this dour news, and on a more cheerful note, the UK has officially avoided falling into recession, buoyed by 0.1% growth in November last year. This unexpected boost was partly due to spending in pubs and bars driven by the public watching the FIFA World Cup in Qatar. Recession remains a near certainty, but the World Cup-related lift has delayed this becoming a reality for now.
What this shows is that sporting events can be a short-term means for growth, not just for the host but for the watching world. This growth must complement a long-term sustainable legacy. The Qatari Government invested €130bn in preparation for last year’s World Cup as part of its diversification and modernisation strategy. A state-of-the-art metro system, reliable digital public services, and technologically advanced stadiums are all products of this investment. The World Cup presented a clear deadline for completing investment projects but, crucially, Qatar will continue to reap the benefits of these projects for years to come. Hosting an event must be a catalyst for implementing real change and significant lasting impact, not just an end in and of itself.
With 62% of the public supporting a UK-Ireland bid for Euro 2028, the bid team must demonstrate how the UK would deliver thrilling tournament football, but also convince the public that the tournament can be an instrument for future economic expansion. Our recent poll showed 53% of people think that hosting major international sporting events has either no impact or a negative impact on the host country. Any growth, therefore, needs to be obvious and visible to citizens. For example, public service improvement can communicate clear economic progress to citizens. A smooth experience with everyday services is a key indicator to citizens that the government is performing well, and so investment in public services, infrastructure and technology must all be prioritised as part of long-term growth, ready to be showcased at Euro 2028.
The carrot of the Euros provides a goal, an incentive to invest in the nation. However, the tournament also has the potential to act as a distraction, with policy makers swallowed up by focusing on a momentary, fleeting event. The correct path is to elevate real, lasting economic growth and improvements in public services, with hosting Euro 2028 acting as a catalyst, a steppingstone in achieving this long-term vision for the nation.