Russia’s goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev at Armenia-Russia Euro 2012 Qualifying Match Photo: Pan Photo (via. Flickr).
Is Russia Ready to host the 2018 FIFA World Cup?
In three short years, Russia will host the next World Cup. FIFA claims that Russia is on track in its preparations, but anybody who paid attention to the Winter Olympics in Sochi might be right to be a little skeptical.
To refresh your memory, the Sochi Olympics were beset by an abundance of political, logistical and morale problems. Because of Russia’s anti-LGBT laws, a slough of world leaders — among many others, refused to attend the opening ceremonies and the games all together. Reporters noted low attendance at the games, and the International Olympic Committee’s fact sheet notes that only about 410,000 people attended the 144 games. Even with such low attendance, the experience of those who did attend was so bad that a variety of memes, hashtags and other viral cues dominated social media, such as the Worst Olympic Sochi Hotels tumblr blog.
These reports don’t instill a lot of confidence in Russia’s status as the next host country of the most popular sporting event in the world. This past summer’s World Cup in Brazil sported more than 3.4 million attendees in 64 games — more than 8 times Sochi’s audience packed into less than half the number of games. Although 2018 World Cup games will be spread out across 13 cities (including Sochi), if attendance is even close to Brazil’s, that’s potentially up to a quarter of a million people seeing games at each venue over the course of the event. It’s actually quite possible the logistical problems of the Sochi Olympic Games could be repeated a dozen times over.
This isn’t mere musing. Sochi’s Olympic failures came despite the Russian government’s expenditures to the tune of $51 billion in infrastructure and other preparations. For the 2018 World Cup, Russia has pledged $10 billion, and while some of the infrastructure built up for the Sochi Olympics will no doubt be reused, renovations may need to be made over the next three years to offset any shortcomings. Looking to other venues, a year after winning the bid, Russia scaled back the number of stadiums it planned to have ready for 2018, and in July FIFA suggested that the number of stadiums could be reduced even further. Some of the stadiums that make the cut won’t be ready until 2017, which doesn’t leave a lot of time to compensate for any setbacks — political, financial, environmental or other — in the meantime.
Apart from infrastructure and economy, there’s also the social problem to consider. If international soccer truly is ready for openly gay players, as Slate’s Liam Hoare has argued, the 2018 World Cup could prove an interesting — to put it mildly — place to test out that theory. Many fans may want to “Stop the Slurs” (as one motto during the Brazil World Cup urged), but in a host country with hostile legislation against non-heterosexual orientations and a penchant for politically motivated hooliganism, there’s potential for a very real threat to the safety of players, fans and bystanders alike.
Should FIFA consider a different venue for the games, could the United States step up to host the World Cup at this point? The United States has impressive stadiums across the country that would only need minor adjustments to be made to ready itself for the event. Additionally, the more serious matters like human rights issues and government funding would not pose the same threat in the States. Since the World Cup is an international event, many would argue that these issues can not be inherent of any country hosting the games. If there was an opportunity for the US to host the games instead, the US bid committee, including some familiar faces like California Governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and former counselor to the president, Doug Band – who are well versed in international decision making processes – could be instrumental in campaigning for this switch.
With America’s existing infrastructure and proven capability of hosting major events in the past, I believe it’s safe to say this would be a powerful campaign. Unfortunately we aren’t likely to see this happen until 2026 or so. None of this is meant to be a prediction. In fact, I hope all my fears are proven wrong when 2018 comes around. In the end, all I can say is that the next time the US bids for the World Cup, these are all things that, thankfully, we won’t have to contend with.
This was a guest-post kindly provided by Peter Donovan.