Great article in the Guardian today about Russia’s bid to host the 2018 Football World Cup. According to the Guardian, the Russian bid’s organizers are pretty confident of beating England, their main challenger to become the 2018 World Cup hosts.
“…with three months to go until Fifa’s secret ballot, the Russians appear quietly certain that they and not England will emerge victorious. Mutko’s optimism stems from a single powerful idea – that a Russian World Cup would be a more dynamic, more compelling, and more nation-transforming event than a ‘safe’, and possibly dull, English one. It would, in short, be a moment in history.”
I have to say (speaking as an Englishman who would love to be able to watch a live World Cup match just down the road from my house) I agree with Vitaly Mutko. If the World Cup were to be hosted in England it would be well-organized, without a doubt, and the facilities would be excellent. But it would also be a tremendously dull affair. The awarding of a major tournament to a country like England would be nice enough, but no-one in England would be excited about the event, except perhaps the citizens of participating countries who already live in England (mainly in London).
Awarding the event to Russia, on the other hand, would mean a great deal more to people there, and would be much more of a “statement” from FIFA. Regardless of what you think about democracy in Russia, following on from the Sochi Olympics in 2014, a Russian World Cup would demonstrate that Russia is a major country again, a country capable of successfully hosting the world’s most prestigious events. Like the decision to host the World Cup in South Africa in 2010, it would demonstrate to the world that Russia is once again an integral part of the international system, after the chaos of the past few decades, and that Russia is a dynamic country to be watched.
And, I have to say, the Russian bid looks pretty impressive. The Russian Government and Russian Football Federation plan to pump a lot of money into either regenerating existing stadiums or (more frequently) building entirely new stadiums around the country. As the Guardian points out, British stadiums are regularly renewed, and would be regularly renewed regardless of whether or not a World Cup was approaching. Renewal of Russian stadiums, on the other hand, is a “once-in-a-generation investment in infrastructure, which would transform sport across the world’s largest country”.
Although I like the plan to host matches across five different “clusters” of stadiums spread across Western Russia, I am disappointed that all of the host cities are in European Russia. I can see that, from a practical perspective, this is a sensible approach – football is strongest in the West of Russia, and infrastructure is stronger in the West as well. But I can’t help but feel that the bid’s organisers have missed a wonderful opportunity to be host to the first ever World Cup Finals to be held on two continents – Europe and Asia.
It will be interesting to see which way the decision goes in a few months time. The British bid definitely looks slicker, and would probably be a more professional event. But the British bid team have really slipped up by accusing the Russian team of bribery, and accusing Russian fans of being racist (which is a risky allegation to make when you consider how badly behaved British fans are when they travel abroad).
If I were a betting man, I’d probably put a few quid on a Russian victory…