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Lessons from the past: York academics investigate 1966 World Cup

Posted on 6 March 2014

University of York researchers are carrying out a pioneering study of the management history of the 1966 FIFA World Cup, investigating the tournament’s impact on local and national economic development.

The post-war years were a golden era for British football which led to England becoming hosts of the 1966 FIFA World Cup. Photo from the 1950s.

The one-year study - which will draw parallels to other world cups, including the 2014 World Cup in Brazil - aims to add to the debates around the hosting of major sporting events and their wider impacts on business, the economy and society.

Dr Alex Gillett and Dr Kevin Tennent, from the University’s York Management School, have been awarded a João Havelange Scholarship by the sports’ governing body FIFA and the Centre International d’Etude du Sport in Switzerland to support the study.

Business historian Dr Tennent said: “Our main aim is to investigate the impact of the 1966 tournament on local and national economic development. In many ways, Harold Wilson’s modernisation of the British economy serves as a parallel to the FIFA 2014 World Cup in Brazil, where there are hopes that hosting the finals will contribute to Brazil’s emergence as a global economic power.”

Dr Gillett, a lecturer in Marketing, said: “Much has been reported about the events of the 1966 World Cup on the field, but little has been written about its organisation and economic or social impact. However, £500,000 – equivalent to around £21m in today’s terms – of central government funding was given to improve seven host venues, suggesting that public policy benefits were expected to emerge from the hosting of the tournament.

“While this is a very modest amount by modern standards, the Labour Government of Harold Wilson clearly saw the World Cup as an opportunity to put a modernising Britain in the world’s shop window, while boosting national morale. As well as financing ground improvements, Foreign Office files in The National Archives suggest that the occasion was seen as an important political and diplomatic event.”    

Today the organisation of the FIFA World Cup is becoming a more complex and costly process, involving political intervention far beyond football. The researchers say the requirements for hosting the tournament have, over time, become more and more elaborate.

They point out that the 2002 tournament in Japan and South Korea raised the bar with the two countries building or extensively refurbishing 20 new stadia. In 2006, Germany invested public funding in infrastructure to support the tournament, including a new central railway station in Berlin.

And the tournament’s move towards emerging economies saw both investment in stadia and public infrastructure in the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, with $2.7bn of public money invested in stadia and road and rail projects.

Dr Tennent said: “Considerable predictions were made about the economic impact of the tournament in South Africa which largely remained unrealised. Although a far more established football nation than South Africa, Brazil has tried to make a similar economic case for hosting the World Cup and is already projected to spend $3.3bn on stadium construction and $13bn on infrastructure.

“This trend of public investment is likely to continue in future World Cups. Through our study, we aim to provide a constructive and critical review of the 1966 World Cup’s economic and social impact, and to encourage more discussion about the legacy of this and other world cups.”

The development of football as an industry in England will be a key secondary theme of the study, as the joy of winning the 1966 tournament was soon overtaken by the perceived decline of the English game throughout the 1970s and 1980s.

Dr Gillett said: “The irony is that while football ‘came home’ in 1966, it then suffered a dramatic decline. With the age of television, there was a fall in numbers at the turnstile, which eventually led to bigger clubs and a more commercial, rather than community-based, game. Our aim is to look critically at what the 1966 World Cup achieved - and failed to achieve - and to investigate what lessons the past has to offer.”

Notes to editors:

Contact details

Caron Lett
Press Officer

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