Russia expects no 'kick up backside' moment over World Cup
Despite a faltering economy, international tension over Ukraine, and an investigation into its World Cup bid, Russia is confident everything will be ready by the time the soccer extravaganza kicks off on June 14, 2018.
Moscow: Despite a faltering economy, international tension over Ukraine, and an investigation into its World Cup bid, Russia is confident everything will be ready by the time the soccer extravaganza kicks off on June 14, 2018.
"The dream will come true," Vladimir Leonov, sports minister for Russia`s Tatarstan republic, told reporters in the regional capital Kazan. "The World Cup is coming and we are lucky to experience it in our lifetime."
FIFA Secretary General Jerome Valcke famously caused a diplomatic row when he told the Brazilian government prior to the 2014 finals that it needed "a kick up the backside" over preparations as delays piled up.
Russian organisers say their tournament will be delivered as planned.
Of the 12 stadiums being built or updated, from the exclave of Kaliningrad on the Baltic Sea to Yekaterinburg on the border where Europe meets Asia, three are already complete and work has begun at eight more. Builders are due to break ground at the last one, in Kaliningrad, at the end of this month.
With powerful backers, it is no surprise that preparations for the championship are largely on track.
President Vladimir Putin sees the World Cup as an opportunity to showcase Russia as a global power and boost his own image before a presidential election due in 2018, just before the finals.
Russia won the right to host the finals in 2010 with a bid promising to build state-of-the-art sports facilities and to put regional cities on the map.
Since then, several potential party-spoilers have emerged.
Russia`s economy is battling against a collapse in global oil prices and Western sanctions imposed on Moscow after it annexed the Black Sea peninsula of Crimea from Ukraine last year.
U.S. federal authorities are also investigating the bidding process as part of their probe into corruption and bribery involving FIFA. There have been calls for the venue to be changed, although that is unlikely to happen.
Nonetheless, Russia expects to spend more than 630 billion roubles ($11.12 billion) on preparations including an overhaul of the transport system and building hotels, training grounds and health facilities.
Organisers in Yekaterinburg, a host city more than 1,700 km (1,050 miles) east of Moscow, say they are working closely with residents, mindful of a community backlash before the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics and violent street protests across Brazil a year before the 2014 World Cup finals.
"Our biggest concern was the re-construction of our stadium. We spent more time in public discussion about the plans than might have been acceptable elsewhere," Deputy Mayor Sergey Tushin said.
"The riots in Brazil were not a catalyst for the way we are preparing," he added. "There was never a chance of that happening here."
A handsome city on the River Volga, Yekaterinburg was the place where Russia`s last tsar, Nicholas II, and his family were killed in 1918. The stadium is a virtual shell and is being reconstructed with its historic yellow outside walls preserved.
The new stadium in Kazan is now finished. Lying in an oil-producing area with many Muslims, Kazan is a bustling city where mosques, new office blocs and shopping centres stand side by side.
Valery Shantsev, governor of Nizhny Novgorod region, whose main city will host World Cup matches, said work done for the championship would have a positive long-term legacy.
"The new infrastructure will benefit everyone, with new
roads and other improvements," he told reporters on an 11-day tour of the tournament host cities.
Work has started on the new Nizhny stadium, which is at present just foundations.
Shantsev cited a recent poll showing overwhelming support for hosting the World Cup and said: "We believe it will change people`s lives for the better."
But another poll, by the state-funded VTsIOM research group, showed last month that 73 percent of Russians were "indifferent" to soccer.
Russia`s economic slowdown is also taking its toll. The government cut planned spending on preparations by 30 billion roubles in June and has rowed back on plans for hotels, training grounds and venue capacity since the start of 2015.
Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko has said a decline in the rouble against the U.S. dollar in the past year could inflate stadium construction costs by 30-40 percent and building materials are now being sourced locally from Russian providers.
"They`re trying to say everything is OK, everything is on budget and we`re not expecting any overruns - which is basically impossible to avoid right now," said Michael Karas, editor-in-chief of website Stadium Database.