Why FIFA World Cup 2018 can be a perfect image rebuilding exercise for Russia | football | Hindustan Times
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Why FIFA World Cup 2018 can be a perfect image rebuilding exercise for Russia

Russia has managed to get work completed in time and now awaits well over 1 million fans, according to various estimates, from all over the globe this summer for the FIFA World Cup 2018.

football Updated: Jun 12, 2018 17:11 IST
Bhargab Sarmah
Bhargab Sarmah
Hindustan Times, Moscow
People gather near decorations for the upcoming FIFA World Cup 2018, with St. Basil's Cathedral seen in the background in Moscow.
People gather near decorations for the upcoming FIFA World Cup 2018, with St. Basil's Cathedral seen in the background in Moscow.(REUTERS)

New stadia, hotels, roads, airports and other infrastructure with an estimated investment of close to $12 billion make the FIFA World Cup 2018 one of the costliest ever. In terms of spending, Russia’s investment for the tournament stands second to only Brazil’s estimated $15 billion splash in 2014.

With football’s grandest tournament coming to Russian soil for the first time, the country has pulled all stops to make it an affair to remember.

Not a smooth ride

It hasn’t been a smooth ride since the country won the bid in December 2010. Economic sanctions following the Crimean crisis, controversy over spending at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, a full-blown doping scandal, a diplomatic stand-off with Britain, allegations of corruption and workers’ rights violations ahead of the World Cup meant that the spotlight rarely left the Russian state in the build-up.

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Nevertheless, Russia has managed to get work completed in time and now awaits well over 1 million fans, according to various estimates, from all over the globe this summer.

Economic benefits of hosting the World Cup remain unclear. “The games will last just one month and the associated economic stimulus will pale in comparison to the size of Russia’s $1.3 trillion economy,” Kristin Lindow, a senior vice-president of Moody’s, said in a recently released report.

The Russian central bank, on the other hand, said the tournament will bring short-term economic benefits. “Concerning the second and third quarters of 2018, the short-term positive impact on the Russian economy will be the growth in jobs and increase in demand for consumer products and services,” the bank was quoted as saying by Reuters.

There also remains the question whether most of the 12 stadiums will become white elephants once the World Cup ends.

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For president Vladimir Putin and the Russian state, however, hosting the World Cup remains more of an image building event.

An estimated cost of $51 billion for the Sochi Olympics in 2014 has seen Russia facing allegations of corruption. After the Crimean crisis, the country was facing the prospect of international isolation.

This World Cup, in a way, is Russia’s attempt to project its soft power and getting back at the west after a series of diplomatic disputes in recent years.

In his speeches, Putin has been careful to omit references of economic fallouts from the World Cup, barring the obvious upgrade in infrastructure. Instead, his speeches have been mostly about the country’s hospitality and Russia’s culture and heritage.

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“We will gift you with a real celebration filled with sporting passion and strong emotions. I hope that you will have lasting memories not only of the matches of the best teams and the skills of the players, but also of your acquaintance with Russia, it’s distinctive culture, unique history, rich character and her hospitable, sincere and friendly people. We have done everything to ensure our guests, sportsmen, experts and, of course, fans, feel at home in Russia. We have opened our country and hearts to the world,” Putin said in a recent address to visitors at the World Cup.

While the Russian economy may not stand to gain in the long-run from the World Cup, the tournament comes at a time when the country seeks to rebuild its image as a world leader.

After beating England, among others, to the hosting rights, a successful tournament will come in handy Russia’s quest for the same.