Are World Cup Cities Ready for Smart City Implementation?

Soccer took to the global stage this summer as Russia hosted the 2018 FIFA World Cup. Held once every four years, the World Cup is a global spectacle that requires extensive planning and, in most cases, spending. How do nations prepare to host over one hundred highly attended games over the course of four weeks? How do individual cities provide a high quality experience and effectively transport fans to and from events? To demonstrate how the use of sustainable practices and smart technology has become paramount to hosting the World Cup, we explore the recent tournament in Russia, the construction underway for World Cup 2022 in Qatar, and the planning for United 2026 in North America.

Russia has a history of spending on international sporting events. After the 2014 Sochi Olympics and the 2018 World Cup, the country now holds the record for most money spent on these respective events. As part of the $14 billion dollar World Cup budget, Russia invested $9.5 billion in transportation and stadium improvements, focusing largely on smart and environmentally sustainable technology. This included airport renovations and new tram lines in host cities. Under FIFA’s new regulation, requiring green certification for new or updated stadiums, Russia assured that all of its stadiums met international sustainability standards by implementing LED lighting and water-saving technology.

In addition to the nation’s spending on the World Cup, previously implemented initiatives by individual Russian host cities have not only improved the quality of life for citizens but also increased the capacity for accommodating visitors arriving for the tournament. For instance, Moscow, the prime destination for fans who traveled to the 2018 World Cup, has already completed many smart city projects. The city renovated 2,417 historic buildings, deployed 11,360 smart traffic lights, installed 160,000 traffic surveillance cameras, planted 12,788 trees, and constructed 20 km of bike path. Other projects have increased technology usage in school systems, improved government efficiency, and unified healthcare for the city’s 12.5 million citizens.


Over the last six years, the quality of life has risen steeply in Moscow, Russia. The Numbeo Quality of Life Index factors purchasing power, pollution, house price to income ratio, cost of living, safety, traffic, healthcare, and climate into the estimates for citizens overall well-being in cities around the world. Although Moscow remains below the global city average, the city shows a much higher growth rate and is quickly closing the gap.


Among the most notable smart city implementation for tourists and World Cup fans, Moscow launched free Wi-Fi hotspots across the city in 2012.There are now over 8,000 access points on the streets, in public areas and parks, in schools, and on public transportation. The metro, trolleybuses, and trams are equipped with Wi-Fi access and USB ports for charging mobile devices. This allows visitors to access maps and information on cultural sites, restaurants, shops, and hotels while they travel, which has positive impacts on users, citizens, and the city.

Looking ahead to the 2022 World Cup, Qatar’s plans rival those executed in Russia. Construction is already underway, and Qatar is spending $500 million weekly on infrastructure and transportation projects to make the tournament a possibility, with a total budget of $8 billion to $10 billion. Qatari authorities promise to organize an environmentally friendly and sustainable World Cup. The plans for the tournament include seven new stadiums built to be zero-waste, with zero carbon emissions, complying with the Global Sustainability Assessment Systems (GSAS). To decrease the waste that frequently occurs when cities build sporting facilities for short-term events, Qatar is installing more temporary structures that can be disassembled after the World Cup.

Qatari cities are also looking to implement smart city policies to improve their capacities at World Cup host sites. A central location for World Cup 2022, Doha is leading the Middle East in smart city development, using the Qatar National Vision 2030 as momentum for projects throughout the city. Five hundred thousand sensors are being installed to integrate city management into a Central Command center that will control the operation of smart buildings and services, security cameras, street lighting, waste collection, and parking. The city is also prioritizing smart transportation, as renovation to the Hamad International Airport will increase the capacity of the airport from 30 million to 50 million passengers a year. From there, fans will be able to take the Doha Metro or bus to each stadium in less than an hour. Qatar Rail is currently constructing three metro lines, along with rail and light rail systems with Doha as the backbone.

With the closing of the Russia 2018 World Cup and the rising profile of the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, North American soccer fans have much to look forward to come 2026. In June, FIFA named the United States, Canada, and Mexico as the first ever tri-hosts of the event under their “United 2026” bid. In contrast to Russia and Qatar, the bid sold itself based on the existing infrastructure and a minimal need for spending on stadiums and transportation, despite that the tournament is increasing in size from 32 to 48 teams. Many of the stadiums under consideration for hosting World Cup games have environmentally sustainable features, and eight already have LEED certification or the Environmental Protection Agency’s Certificate of Achievement. Infrastructure in each of the proposed host cities already meets or exceeds FIFA requirements for transportation, accommodation, medical, and technology.

With games slated to be played in only sixteen cities of the twenty-three cities evaluated in the bid, Philadelphia is a viable candidate to be a host city in eight years’ time. Is Philadelphia ready to take on the World Cup? If you ask Mayor Jim Kenney and the rest of Philadelphia’s Host City Committee Members, the answer is a resounding yes. Not only does the city have experience hosting high-profile tourist events  — the Papal visit of 2015, the 2016 Democratic National Convention, and the 2017 NFL Draft – but it also boasts LEED Silver Certified Lincoln Financial Field and SEPTA’s Broad Street Line, which FIFA recognized as an above average connection between the city center and the stadium. This existing infrastructure is key to the city’s ability to host.

However, in a similar manner to Moscow or Doha, can the implementation of smart city technology improve Philadelphia’s capacity to accommodate soccer fans? The city is in the process of developing SmartCityPHL, a plan for Philadelphia’s investment in and implementation of smart technology, demonstrating its commitment to smart city policies while simultaneously raising its potential as a host city. Funded by the Smart City Council Readiness Challenge Grant and Knight Foundation Grant, Philadelphia’s strategic planning is laying the groundwork for the successful implementation of smart city projects, and ensuring that investments will be made wisely and efficiently.

Within this smart city roadmap, Philly is considering innovations such as parking sensors and street cameras with the goal of decreasing traffic and CO2 emissions induced by time spent searching for available parking. While Philadelphia’s traffic and CO2 emissions have increased in recent years, SmartCityPHL gives reason to be optimistic that, by the 2026 World Cup, the city will have implemented smarter policies that not only reduce traffic and CO2 emissions, but also make facilitating large tourist populations more manageable. Other potential projects focus on the built environment, telecommunications, and basic public services with a goal to make the projects accessible, inclusive, and catered to Philadelphia’s diverse population. As early as September of 2018, one hundred kiosks will arrive to Philadelphia’s Center City and University City’s streets to provide free Wi-Fi, charging ports, and calling to residents and tourists.


Three Numbeo traffic indices demonstrate room for growth in Philadelphia’s efficiency and sustainability, as a higher value on each scale indicates a worse condition. Moscow has the highest values for the overall traffic index over the five year time span, yet it will likely see a decrease as the city’s public transportation improvements take full effect in the coming years. Since 2016, Philadelphia has experienced an increase in values for all three traffic indices. These problems are a main focus for development with smart technology in the SmartCityPHL plan.


Despite the differences between the respective host nations and their propensities for spending, it is abundantly clear that hosting a global event requires the prioritization of smart and sustainable technologies. On a city level, smart policies are essential to the quality of life for residents and to the city’s capacity to accommodate tourists. Hosting the 2026 World Cup would incentivize smart city development and innovation in Philadelphia. The World Cup is emerging as both a globally unifying force and a motivator for cities and countries to work towards a more sustainable and efficient future.


Ellen Chinn was a Summer 2018 Intern at ESI. Ellen attends The College of William & Mary with a double major in Economics and Environmental Science & Policy.

Michael Carr was a Summer 2018 Intern at ESI. Michael attends Haverford College and is majoring in Political Science and Growth & Structure of Cities.

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