MOSCOW - Russia's President Vladimir Putin on Sunday vowed "an unforgettable football feast" when his country hosts the 2018 World Cup. After spending more than the $50 billion on this year's Sochi Winter Olympics, Putin faces another multi-billion dollar bill for the project. The 2018 World Cup is Russia's most ambitious project since the fall of the Soviet Union.
But Putin is confident. "We will do all we can to organise the event on the highest level," he vowed at Rio de Janeiro's Maracana stadium. "We successfully hosted the Winter Olympics...in Sochi and now know exactly what a challenge it is to organise an event of such calibre," he added on Friday. The Kremlin strongman said Russia wanted to learn from the experience of Brazil which won plaudits for the colourful tournament despite dire warnings of street protests, rushed construction and crime.
"We will do our best to present the world an unforgettable football feast and genuine Russian hospitality in 2018," Putin told Cuba's Prensa Latina and Russia's state ITAR-TASS news agencies. For February's Winter Olympics Moscow pumped $50 billion into transforming the Black Sea resort of Sochi into a glittering sports venue, making the games the most expensive in history and vastly outstripping initial estimates. The World Cup presents an even bigger challenge with a radical overhaul needed of sports, tourist and transport infrastructure in a string of under-developed regions across the vast country. Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko initially estimated the total cost of the 2018 World Cup at 680 billion roubles ($20 billion/14.7 billion euros), saying half will come from private investment and half from eight regional budgets.
Matches will be played in Moscow, Saint Petersburg, Sochi, Volga region city Kazan, Yekaterinburg in the Urals, Kaliningrad, Nizhny Novgorod, Samara, Saransk, Rostov-on-Don and Volgograd. Some of the venues are already complete or well on schedule -- but elsewhere work will be starting from scratch. Moscow's iconic Luzhniki stadium, built in 1956 and which hosted the 1980 Olympics, the 2008 Champions League final and 2013 World Athletics Championships, is being transformed into an 81,000-seat arena fit to hold the opening match and the final. Spartak Moscow's new 42,000-seater stadium goes into service in September while the 45,100-seater venue at Kazan, which hosted the World Student Games last year, is already operational.
Saint Petersburg's 70,000-seat Gazprom arena is expected to be ready in May 2016 and Sochi's Olympic Fisht ground will soon increase its capacity to 45,000 seats.
Elsewhere, a mammoth task lies ahead with a state-run firm chosen to build stadiums in six provincial cities from scratch and renovate the ground in the easterly city of Yekaterinburg. "We expect to start building works in August or September at latest. We believe all the venues will be ready in time," Mutko promised Putin. According to a confirmed construction plan 106.8 billion roubles ($3.16 billion/2.37 billion euros) has been earmarked from the state budget for the gigantic job.
Russia's preparations received praise from FIFA president Sepp Blatter. "The Russians have started to work so hard right from the start," Blatter said. "It's a different approach. I am very happy." FIFA secretary general Jerome Valcke, speaking in May, said that Russia, where harsh winters could make deadlines tight, had to anticipate problems.
"Russia will not be easy," he warned. It's not only infrastructure that needs an overhaul but also Russia's football culture and the national team. The country suffers from racism and hooliganism in stadiums. Its clubs and national team have to improve ahead of 2018. Coach Fabio Capello guided Russia to their first World Cup finals since 2002 in Brazil but failed to win a game and came home after the first round. Mutko, who has backed under-fire Capello, said: "We have no right to disgrace ourselves in 2018 in front of our home supporters. It is inadmissible."