Sometimes, too much of a good thing can be bad for us; one chocolate leads to another, or one more episode of your favorite show before bed leads to a whole box set. It’s easy to become accustomed to having everything to hand when we want it, especially our access to quality sports.
After watching your team for an entire season, people would be forgiven for thinking you’d be glad of a few months away from soccer before the new season.
They would, of course, be wrong. We can never get enough soccer, especially world-class soccer, and a summer tournament between nations is a perfect way to relax before another long league campaign starts.
The problem is the World Cup is only every four years, so while we get really excited when another tournament creeps around, there’s just such a long wait between each World Cup.
If you’ve ever wondered why we can’t have the excitement of a World Cup every year, then you’re in the right place.
Today we’re going to look at the real reasons why a FIFA World Cup is held every four years and not, as some of us may wish, held every season.
A chance at lifting the greatest international trophy on earth every summer sounds pretty good to us, so why doesn’t FIFA jump on board? It’s not like they wouldn’t like the extra income.
Once you’ve discovered the reasons for the long wait between each tournament, perhaps you’ll rethink that petition you were planning on starting.
Here’s why the FIFA World Cup is played every 4 years.
1. Host Nation Preparation Time
Regardless of which nation wins the bid for hosting a World Cup, the preparation needed to organize and host a month-long tournament is massive.
Even if the infrastructure is mostly in place, there is a need to simultaneously prepare for a huge influx of fans, players, staff, and media.
If a nation’s stadiums aren’t up to regulation, or there’s an expected need for new stands, then that work can cost millions of dollars and take several years to complete.
For a nation such as Qatar, the costs have been astronomical; most of the stadiums simply didn’t exist, resulting in costs spiraling into hundreds of billions of dollars.
It’s estimated that Qatar has spent $300 billion preparing for the 2022 World Cup, and that money takes time to spend. Having a World Cup every season or two would become cost-prohibitive for a start.
Building the hotels and creating safe environments for fans, media centers, and road and rail networks take great planning and time.
2. Integrating Continental Competition
If you’ve ever wondered why FIFA hasn’t tried to increase the number of World Cups, one of the other main reasons is the fact that most continents already have another tournament for their fans to enjoy.
With the European Championships being held every four years, European nations have international soccer tournaments every two years.
Two years after a World Cup has finished, the Euros take place, and then two years later, there’s another World Cup, and so on. It’s the same for other countries, too; the African Cup of Nations takes up a lot of time, as does the AFC Asian Cup.
The Copa America is a massive tournament in South America that takes up considerable time for nations from that part of the world.
Trying to integrate each of these tournaments around an annual or even a bi-annual World Cup would prove catastrophic. Not only would fans struggle to watch every game, but the players would also be exhausted.
International soccer is supposed to be the best of the best, with elite players vying for major honors. If Brazil, Spain, Italy, or any other nation that usually qualifies for most major tournaments had to field several teams, the quality would drop massively.
By keeping a reasonable schedule, fans who pay hard-earned money to travel to tournaments know they’ll be seeing the best their nation has to offer.
It’s not just a logistical nightmare to have too many World Cup tournaments; it would come at the cost of other tournaments that have often been around for almost a century.
3. Player Recuperation Time
Elite players that play for their national team are invariably part of big clubs and are often involved in multiple competitions throughout a season. As an example, an African player playing in the Premier League for, say, Manchester City could play 38 Premier League games a season.
On top of that, they could play up to a dozen domestic cup matches. As Manchester City is a Champions League team, the African international could also play another ten Champions League games that same season if City progress to the final.
Throw in international friendlies, World Cup qualifiers, and the African Cup of Nations, and then the following season, the player plays all season before heading to a World Cup.
Pretty soon, you’re going to get burned out, and exhausted players will get injured. Clubs see their players as assets, sometimes worth 100 million dollars or more; it’s in their interests to protect them and keep them healthy.
A World Cup that went from being hosted every four years to every one or two would make it impossible for players to rest. The travel alone would be unreasonable, and clubs would soon find reasons to pull their players from international duty.
Mysterious injuries would appear, stopping players from going away with their national team to play four friendlies on the other side of the planet. It works both ways, too; a player that is desperate to play for their nation might fear being burned out or, worse, injured just before a major tournament.
Suddenly a player starts picking up red or yellow cards and finds themselves suspended from domestic club games. A tight hamstring suddenly turns into a full-blown injury; the club medical staff can’t prove it doesn’t hurt as much as the player says, and a few weeks’ rest is granted. A player might then miraculously heal just in time to head off for international duty.
4. Scarcity Appeal
As we’ve already discussed, too much of a good thing can be bad for you, and one of the greatest appeals for having a World Cup tournament every four years is the scarcity value. If your national team loses in the semi-final or final of a World Cup, it’s heartbreaking stuff.
It’s so important, though, because it’s so rare; if you could simply go back next year and try again, the excitement would be lost.
A World Cup is remarkable; we still look back at previous tournaments and remember the great games and players we grew up idolizing. If they’re lucky, the best players get to play in three World Cups, the really great, maybe even four.
This is one of the main reasons why the FIFA World Cup is so popular, if it was played every year, it wouldn’t have the same hype.
Very, very few players make it to five World Cup tournaments, and these are the players that become legends. Being good enough from 17-18 and maintaining that skill level for over 20 years is a massive accomplishment.
Taking away that accomplishment by having a World Cup every season or two would diminish the achievement for players; it should be hard to make a World Cup squad, especially for a bigger country with a strong national league.
If national managers had to balance three squads of players, ensuring qualification games were won, and the team was competitive in each tournament, the quality levels would drop dramatically.
Imagine making it to your first World Cup tournament as a fan, spending thousands of dollars on travel, tickets, and living expenses, and then watching two nations’ B teams in a bore-draw game. You’d be livid, and rightly so.
After looking at all of the reasons why a World Cup is held every four years, we’re inclined to agree with the experts; any sooner than four years would ruin the World Cup. It’s the no.1 soccer tournament in the world for a reason.
We, as fans, love that it’s hard to win; we want to see the very best players on the biggest stage. We hope the next game will be the best game of soccer we’ve ever seen, and you can’t have that if tournaments are every year.
For emerging nations such as Qatar, hosting a World Cup can be the making of their nation’s sporting ambitions. Had Qatar only been given two years to prepare, create infrastructure, and even build the actual stadiums that weren’t in place, they couldn’t have been ready on time.
Four years, while it feels like a long time to wait for the most significant soccer exhibition on earth, is, in fact, the perfect length of time to wait between each World Cup.
By the time of the 2026 World Cup, we will be starved of this fantastic tournament again, and be eagerly looking forward to seeing the United States, Canada, and Mexico, host the 32 best national teams in the world.