The World Cup, the planet's premier media event, is ending Sunday, with organizers calling the 1986 championship series the most financially successful in soccer history.
Many Mexicans, however, are asking if the World Cup has bestowed any lasting economic benefits here. Colombia originally had been chosen to put on the 1986 Cup, but withdrew under pressure from domestic critics who argued that a poor Latin nation couldn't afford to stage the month-long, 52-game championship.
Mexico's 1983 decision to host the Cup, made less than a year after it had suddenly stopped payments on its massive foreign debt, sparked bitter debate here. But Mexican officials insisted then -- and continue to claim now as Mexico appears headed toward its second debt crisis -- that the soccer championship's costs would be absorbed entirely by its business sponsors.
The 1986 World Cup organizing committee, controlled and bankrolled by Televisa, Mexico's powerful private television network, rented the dozen stadiums used in the championship, while building a lavish press center and new television broadcasting facility at its own expense, officials point out.
"This is strictly a private enterprise affair," a senior Mexican official said privately as the Cup began last month. "If it were costing us money, we wouldn't be doing it."
Yet the government has declined to give any public accounting of its own substantial Cup-related expenditures. Questions about the Cup's true cost intensified after Guillermo Canedo, the organizing committee's president, declared a month ago that because the event is managed "by private initiative, neither its costs, profits or losses are going to be made public."
Arguments that a successful Cup would burnish Mexico's international image drew scorn after the committee selected as the Cup's mascot the now ubiquitous "Pique," a handlebar-mustached, sombrero-topped green chili pepper condemned by many Mexicans as an offensive ethnic stereotype.
Concern about the view of Mexico being projected abroad increased following the mass jeering of President Miguel de la Madrid at the Cup's opening ceremony, and the garbling of international television transmissions by the Mexican-managed broadcasting center.
Mexican critics also complain that the World Cup money trail appears to begin and end in Switzerland, the headquarters of FIFA, international soccer's governing body, and the home of the private marketing firm that sells Cup advertising rights. The money remaining in Mexico, moreover, is going into private hands, not the public treasury, they charge.
FIFA expects to collect about $85 million from the 1986 World Cup, contributed roughly equally by ticket sales, sponsorship and merchandising fees, and television transmission fees, Guido Tognoni, a spokesman for the international soccer organization, said in an interview. "The Mexico Cup has been considerably more successful financially than the 1982 Cup in Spain," he said.
The majority of FIFA's revenues are turned over to the competing teams, which receive about $250,000 each for every championship match played. FIFA keeps a fifth of its proceeds, while the local organizing committee is given 9 percent of the Cup's earnings, Tognoni said.
Televisa also will make money from the championship, analysts and Cup officials say. Foreign television networks will pay an estimated $8 million in service and rental fees to "Telemexico," a joint venture between Televisa and Mexico's state-owned television network, which enjoys exclusive World Cup broadcasting control.
Televisa will collect 75 percent of Telemexico's profits, while earning another $20 million in World Cup advertising revenues, according to industry estimates.
In addition, Emilio Azcarraga, Televisa's chairman and chief stockholder, is being paid for the rental, during nine matches including Sunday's final, of the 115,000-seat Aztec stadium, which he also owns.
"These events are always a gamble, but Televisa will probably make a profit," Tognoni said.
The Mexican government, despite its contention that the soccer championship has been cost-free, has undertaken several large Cup-related investments that will reap few short-term returns. In its largest single expenditure, the government built a new 39,000-seat soccer stadium in the city of Queretaro, starting work immediately after approval of Mexico's World Cup bid.
Mexico also invested "a very substantial amount" in special security arrangements, including intensified customs vigilance and the deployment of a 20,000-strong World Cup police force, according to an official with budgetary responsibilities.
The money may have been well spent. While senior Mexican officials had worried that the tournament would attract British hooligans or Middle Eastern terrorists, forcing aggressive police action, the Cup is concluding without having suffered any major incidents of violence.
Of even greater concern to Mexican authorities were threats by a coalition of 50,000 earthquake victims to stage stadium sit-ins to protest the slow progress of government reconstruction efforts. But the feared public confrontations with the homeless were averted, senior officials say, by speeding up new housing programs in quake-damaged neighborhoods.