MOSCOW: Russia’s World Cup organising committee chief vowed to AFP on Thursday that next year’s addition of the showpiece football competition will leave behind no abandoned “white elephant” stadiums or hotels.
Speaking on the eve of Friday’s group stage draw for the June 14-July 15 tournament, Alexei Sorokin said in an interview inside the State Kremlin Palace that Western sanctions on Russia did not impact its preparations in any way.
And he admitted that the national squad faced strong pressure to do well at home, but stressed that Russia liked to play up to the level of its competition and did not fear giants such as defending champions Germany or other big teams.
‘Nothing unneeded, nothing superfluous’
Nations have begun to shy away from staging major sport tournaments such as the Olympic Games because of the costs involved and the risk of much of the infrastructure falling into disuse, angering the public about wasted resources.
Sorokin said this was not the case with Russia because many of the 11 host cities required overdue upgrades such as new airports and hotels — not to mention football-specific stadiums that could improve fan interest and attendance.
“Needless to say, it is infrastructure that would have been built anyway — nothing was built specifically for the World Cup,” said Sorokin.
“No white elephants, nothing unneeded, nothing superfluous, everything will be put to use for Russian citizens in the coming years,” he said in English.
The entire project will officially cost $11.5 billion (9.7 billion euros), with roughly a third of that coming from private funding.
Sorokin said Russia was already “80 percent” ready and that each of the seven brand new stadiums would host three matches ahead of the World Cup to make sure they were fully prepared.
Sanctions did not bite
Russia’s relations with the West have deteriorated sharply since it wrested the World Cup away from England in 2010, with the European Union and the United States imposing economic sanctions because of the Kremlin’s intervention in Ukraine.
But Sorokin said the punitive measures did not bite.
“Not only this but other factors did not manage to impact preparations,” he said.
“So far, nothing (has) stood in our way. There have been no cutdowns to the infrastructure programme that our government embarked on a few years ago.”
Asked whether a successful World Cup would help improve Russia’s image and international relations, Sorokin said his main focus was on ensuring everyone has “a very good experience — an experience that he will remember.”
“If you call that helpful, yes that’s helpful,” he said.
Pressure to perform
A flamboyant and pacy Russian squad stunned much of the world during Euro 2008 when it beat the Dutch 3-1 in the quarter-finals before crashing out 3-0 to eventual champions Spain.
Russia failed to qualify for the subsequent 2010 World Cup and have since only won one match in any major tournament.
The team qualified automatically for next year’s event as its host, losing 1-0 to Argentina in a November 11 friendly in Moscow before drawing 3-3 with Spain in Saint Petersburg three days later.
With sport-crazy Russian President Vladimir Putin watching on, Sorokin said “the pressure is there” on the team to perform.
“But I am sure that they are professional players and they can cope with it.”
He added that “in the history of our games, we showed very moderate performance with teams which we did not consider very strong, and sometimes showed outstanding performance against very strong teams.”
“There is nobody to be overlooked or be condescending about,” Sorokin said.