The World Expo might have a quaint quality for many in the English-speaking world — recalling events such as the 1982 World’s Fair in Knoxville, Tennessee, perhaps most familiar through its appearance in The Simpsons, where the exposition’s symbolic Sunsphere has become a disused storage site for wigs.
But in large parts of the world, the exhibitions are still big business — and increasingly, politically fraught. The expo is considered by many governments to be, along with the Olympic Games and football’s World Cup, one of the "big three” events that can elevate a country’s global standing.
That was the goal of South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol, whose country has hosted two of the three events and aimed to complete the trifecta with a 2030 Expo in the second city of Busan. Despite enlisting boyband BTS and "Gangnam Style" performer Psy, as well as meeting nearly 100 world leaders to bolster support, Busan’s bid was trounced by Riyadh in a vote recently that shocked the country, with Saudi Arabia claiming 119 ballots to 29. (Rome fared even worse, with 17.)