On the 9th of April this year the Volgograd Region’s administration signed an official document which declared the historic football club Rotor Volgograd bankrupt, and thus was yet another of the 2018 World Cup host cities without a professional football team.
The failure of Rotor Volgograd, who was one of Russia’s best teams in the 1990’s, where they won two silver medals and knocked mighty Manchester United out of the UEFA Cup, is a good example of Russia’s preparation problems before the World Cup 2018.
Despite the fact that the Russian rouble has recovered lately, the Western sanctions towards the country have hit the football world hard. Several of the biggest clubs and their players, who are paid in foreign currency, have agreed on a fixed exchange rate to prevent the club budgets from getting out of control, after the players suddenly experienced a large salary increase due to the rouble crisis.
In the lower divisions times are even tougher, and many clubs have gone several months without paying their employees, and clubs, like Rotor, are going bankrupt.
A farce in Saint Petersburg
But it is not only the football players who are not being paid. In the middle of March a group of 50 electricians, working on the construction of the new World Cup stadium in Saint Petersburg, filed a lawsuit because of unpaid wages. The workers contacted the lawyer Arkady Chaplygin, and told him that they had not been paid since October last year. This was far from the first bad news that hit the construction in St. Petersburg, since the site had experienced an exodus of Central Asian migrant workers in January following the rouble crisis. According to Mikhail Demidenko, the head of St. Petersburg’s department for construction, around 20 percent of the migrant workers failed to return to Russia after their New Year holidays in their home countries due to the currency crisis, that have hit their pay checks hard and thus removed their incentive to do physical hard labour far away from home.
The construction in St. Petersburg began already in 2007 and it has since emerged into a farce. The stadium has since seized the questionable title as the world’s most expensive stadium, and it is expected to be ready in 2017, eight years later than the first reports. The many delays even made the local club, Zenit, hire a Swiss company to build them a temporary stadium they can use until Zenit Arena is finally ready.
Unfortunately, for the Russian authorities the stadium in St. Petersburg is not the only one to exceed its budget. In January the construction company Stoitransgaz said that the budgets for the stadiums in Volgograd and Nizhny Novgorod were too small and needed to be increased. At the same time the owner of Stoitransgaz, Gennady Timchenko, who is a part of Vladimir Putin’s inner circle, stated that he could be forced to call of the constructions due to a higher risk and lower income from the project, if the demands were not met.
Around the same time Russia’s sports minister, Vitaly Mutko, announced that the budget for hosting the World Cup had been cut by 10 percent. The money would however be taken from things such as the opening ceremony and non-essential expenses. Mutko later added that the construction budget would remain the same:
“All the investment needed for the infrastructure remains the same. All the resources, which we planned to spend on the stadiums, infrastructure and temporary structures will not change.”
In April Mutko elaborated his saving plan to the news agency TASS, when he told that the Russian government had decided to scrub plans for several luxury hotels. The construction of 25 hotels across the 11 host cities was cancelled while others were relocated or downgraded, which would overall save Russia around 495 millions euro. This plan followed the downgrading of fixed seating in the stadiums in Kaliningrad and Yekateringburg from 45,000 to 35,000.
“We do not need fashionable hotels, constructed to FIFA’s highest requirement, to stay empty after the championship,” Mutko said.
This fear for so-called ‘white-elephants’, stadiums or infrastructure who are not being used after the sport event, has already made the Russian authorities plan to decrease the capacity of the stadiums in Saransk and Kaliningrad after the World Cup.
Even though the economy is a major subject in the discussion about the World Cup, Russia is also fighting other obstacles. In December 2014 the British newspaper The Sunday Times published a report about the bidding processes for the 2018 and 2022 World Cup’s. The newspaper spent four years investigating before they published the report, which included several severe accusations against the Russian bid.
The report states: “The Russia 2018 bid had lobbied for the support of Michel Platini by giving him a painting believed to have been a Picasso. The painting was believed to have been given to Platini by Viacheslav Koloskov, a former Russian executive committee member working for the 2018 bid.”
The report also claims that the Belgian executive committee member, Michel D’Hooghe, received a painting from Koloskov, which the Belgian later confirmed to the newspaper, although he denied it had any value. These are far from the only accusations about corruption and unfair advantages in Russia’s World Cup bid.
The corruption blames strengthened the voice of the many people all over the world who demanded the World Cup in Russia to be boycotted. These demands started in October 2013, when the Ivorian Yaya Touré, a black midfielder from Manchester City, was abused by racist chanting from a group of CSKA Moscow fans. When asked if Russia needed to focus on the fight against racism before the World Cup Touré said:
“Of course they do. It’s very important. Otherwise if we are not confident coming to the World Cup in Russia, we don’t come.”
This statement came three years after Rafal Pankowski, head of UEFA’s East European Monitoring Centre, articulated Russia’s need for a new football culture, following FIFA’s official appointment of Russia as World Cup host.
Nazi symbols and riots
In February 2015 the international anti-discrimination network FAREnet published a report about racism among Russian football fans between May 2012 and May 2014. This report contained numerous incidents containing racist football fans, but it also urged the Russian government to deal with the far-right through a national action plan.
Following this report the Russian Football Union created the position of anti-racism inspector, who will collect evidence to punish clubs for racist behavior. The clubs have also experienced that the punishments for racism among the fans are more severe now. Torpedo Moscow has been punished for racism four times already this season, which led the president of the club, Aleksandr Tukmavov, to brand the supporters as “the most aggressive in the country”.
After the last incident that involved Nazi symbols and riots during an away match against Arsenal Tula Torpedo were sentenced to play their next two home games for closed doors as well as the next three away matches without travelling fans. This sentence was added to an already existing penalty of two home matches in an empty stadium following racist abuse of Zenit Saint Petersburg’s Brazilian striker Hulk.
Sport and politics
A few months after Touré’s statement Russia annexed Crimea which reignited the debate about a possible boycott of the World Cup. The British Labour politician Andy Burnham encouraged FIFA to ‘revisit’ their decision on not mixing politics and football while he also expressed the need to send Vladimir Putin ‘a message’.
This opinion was later supported by a group of American senators, who wrote a letter to FIFA urging them to strip Russia of the World Cup, since it “inappropriately bolsters the prestige of the Putin regime”, as well as Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko who called a World Cup hosted by Russia “unthinkable” as long as there are Russian troops on Ukrainian soil.
So far has FIFA president Sepp Blatter’s standard answer to these requests been that sport and politics should be kept apart, and that history has proven that boycotts are not the right way to resolve these kinds of problems, referring to the Olympic boycotts in 1980 and 1984.
While politicians and NGO’s around the world call for boycotts, Russia works towards a goal of hosting one of the best championships in the history of world soccer, as the Russian presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters following Poroshenko’s appeal. It is still too early to conclude if this will be the case or not, but it is definitely not going to be cheap. The price tag for the Winter Olympics in Socchi ended up on 43.3 billion euro compared the original budget of 11.35 billion euro, and with the rouble crisis in mind we might experience something similar with the World Cup.
Welcome to Russia 2018.
WORLD CUP 2018 VENUES
WORLD CUP 2018 VENUES
Already finished stadiums:
Luzhniki (No club)
Otkritie Arena (Spartak Moscow)
Kazan Arena (Rubin Kazan)
Fisht Olympic Stadium (No club)
Stadiums are currently under construction in:
Saint Petersburg (Zenit St. Petersburg)
Kaliningrad (Baltika Kaliningrad)
Nizhny Novgorod (FC Volga)
Samara (Krylya Sovetov)
Volgograd (Rotor Volgograd/No club)
Rostov-on-Don (FC Rostov)
Yekaterinburg (Ural Yekateringburg)
RACIST AND FAR-RIGHT DISPLAYS IN RUSSIAN FOOTBALL MAY 2012-MAY 2014
RACIST AND FAR-RIGHT DISPLAYS IN RUSSIAN FOOTBALL MAY 2012-MAY 2014
Banners and other visual displays 75
Discriminatory chanting 8
Football related discriminatory graffiti 10
Manifestos and statements by fan groups 4
Types of discrimination: Far-right and neo-Nazi symbols 72
Anti-Caucasus displays 22
Race and politically motivated violence by football fans:
Assaults on antifascists 5
Assault on people of Caucasian origin 15
Migrant pogroms 1
Source: Sova-Center.ru & FARE