Russia's successful 2018 World Cup bid built on promises

Russia took its bid to host the 2018 World Cup all the way, generating controversy, debate and, among some, not a little envy
When Russia’s leaders first started talking in earnest two years ago about taking a shot at hosting the world’s greatest sports event, the response was one of sardonic scepticism.
The country’s bid had long been viewed as an also-ran. Right up to the moment the Fifa executive committee’s voting results were announced on December 2, even in Russia many believed that England or Spain and Portugal jointly would prevail. So all the more thunderous and impressive the result turned out to be, and after only two rounds of voting.
“At long last Russia got the chance to become a genuine footballing country, not just for people set on always winning but for ordinary fans who simply adore the game in any form,” 28-year-old Muscovite and soccer lover Andrei Bykov said in a typical reaction as the news broke.
Even President Dmitry Medvedev allowed himself a flash of exuberance, responding in a Twitter post: “Hurrah! Victory! We’re hosting the 2018 championship!”

But stepping back from the clamour surrounding the outcome of the vote, the reasons for the Fifa decision are obvious, and can be taken right back to the ideology promoted by the World Cup over the past few years.
Fifa president Sepp Blatter and his team have worked to turn the perception of the event into something bigger than just a football game. Blatter went so far as to dismiss the “arrogance of the Western world” that he said hampered the selection process, asking after the results were announced (and contested by some): “What can be wrong if we start football in regions where this sport demonstrates a potential which goes far beyond sport?”
Fifa has taken on a mission to use the game as a tool to develop whole countries, give momentum to investment, and so create a better life for millions of people. Russia fits this bill perfectly, at least as far as its European rivals are concerned.
“Our country has everything that’s needed to host a World Cup. We are building a new Russia. With your help we’ll achieve more, we’ll open our country to the whole world,” said first deputy prime minister, Igor Shuvalov, at the presentation of the Russian bid, calling a choice in favour of his country a “real milestone for mankind”.
As shown by the voting results, the Fifa executive committee subscribed to this view, regardless of critics’ harking on about Russia’s current lack of stadiums, transport and other concrete essentials.
Bidding under the motto “Ready to Inspire”, the Russians masterfully repeated a favourite trick as they turned their main drawback into a trump card. This was exactly the case when Sochi pulled one out of the hat to win the host city bid for the 2014 Winter Olympics, despite its inadequate facilities and infrastructure. The World Cup was no different.
It looks like in order to host the championship, we need to tear down all of our stadiums and promise to build new ones, English fans were overheard saying. And they were onto something: Russia’s bid showcased only one truly functioning stadium – Moscow’s Luzhniki. The rest are either under construction or still on paper.
Granted, this looks impressive in colour pictures: 16 new, beautiful, ultramodern arenas in 13 towns, each with something attractive to offer. The work is cut out, but no one’s complaining: neither the international companies that will certainly take part in the projects, nor Fifa, which will open up a large and promising market; certainly not Russia, which will create thousands of jobs and make a giant leap forward in terms of development.
Now that the initial euphoria over the historic win has subsided, the questions on everybody’s mind are: “What next?” and: “How much is this going to cost?”
The answer to the former is more or less clear. As a matter of fact, much has to be built from scratch apart from stadiums. While Moscow, St Petersburg, and to a certain extent Kazan and Sochi, will in eight years’ time be able to host thousands of tourists and fans, the other regions are worse off.
Host cities will need new airports, moderately priced and high quality hotels, reasonable catering outlets and entertainment, such as restaurants, caf é s, shopping malls, and a whole lot more. In addition, thousands of miles of motorways and railway lines will need to be built.
Slotting neatly into Mr Medvedev’s overall modernisation drive for the country, Russia must now implement a massive programme of development, rolling out the missing pieces of the picture with Stakhanovite vigour.
But even as the country’s leaders and regional bosses promise that everything will be done as planned, no one can yet put a convincing price tag on this huge endeavour.
After he arrived in Zurich on the heels of the Russian win to thank Fifa chiefs, the prime minister, Vladimir Putin, said projected spending is at least $10bn. Experts are confident that the actual bill will be considerably higher, and point to the budget of Sochi 2014, which has tripled in the space of a just few years. Several respected analysts put the cost to Russia of the World Cup 2018 at a stratospheric $50bn.
Interestingly, only $3.8bn has been appropriated for construction of stadiums, plus another $1.4bn to build new airports; at $11bn, spending on tourist infrastructure dwarfs both. But the most important portion of the budget is roads, as a well-developed transportation network crisscrossing European Russia could set the country back up to $35bn.
It’s all approximation at this stage. But whatever the case, the World Cup will be Russia’s most expensive ever entertainment, as the country girds itself, in Mr Putin’s words, “to create an environment on a par with Europe’s”.
Aware that the volume of foreign visitors coming to Russia, and pushing out to the fringes of the host city spectrum, will make or break the event, the government has promised heavily subsidised transport for fans.
Looking at the first wave of reaction from the streets, it is as much a matter of pride for the average Russian as the president or cabinet to make sure it’s a good show for all. “Many people just don’t understand what momentum this will give our country’s development; it’s phenomenal for Russia,” said 21-year-old Muscovite Viktor Maslov. “The main thing is that our leadership stages the cup to such a high standard that all other tournaments will pale in comparison.”
As much as anything else, simply throwing Russia open to the outside world with such vigour is expected to bring positive and lasting changes in perceptions that are often laden with negative associations of the past. And to make sure that potential tourists are not kept away by red tape, Russian authorities have promised visa-free entry for those who book match tickets in advance.
This alone marks a major shift in policy and attitudes that obstructed and deterred inquisitive foreign visitors in past decades. So, judging from the impetus triggered by the Fifa selection, the hosts of the 2018 World Cup are already feeling pretty inspired themselves.