Monday, August 23, 2010

Window on Eurasia: Putin’s Pursuit of Sports Glory Busting Russia’s Budget, Experts Say

Paul Goble

Staunton, August 23 – Vladimir Putin’s pursuit of sports glory for Russia, the latest episode being his effort to secure the world football championships in 2018 that comes on top of the already secured Universiade in Kazan in 2013 and the Sochi Olympics in 2014, is costing the country money it does not have, according to a Russian sports expert.
In a comment on the “Osobaya bukhva” portal last week, Yury Ivanov observes that “if the International Football Federation at its December session makes the Russian Federation the capital of the 2018 championships, this will not be a sweet deal for the Russian budget” (
“Just as in the case of the Sochi Olympiad,” he writes, “the infrastructure for the championship will have to be built from zero,” a situation that will be further complicated by the fact that Moscow will have to pay for both at the same time, even as it spends funds on the 2013 Universiade and the non-athletic Asian-Pacific Rim Economic Summit in Vladivostok in 2012.
The Russian application to the football federation specifies that matches will take place in 13 cities, only two of which (Moscow and St. Petersburg) have anything approaching the necessary infrastructure. In the others, Russia will have to build “contemporary stadiums, hotels, and other facilities.”
The sports expert says that one can compare Russia’s situation with South Africa’s in the run-up to the world cup this year. Pretoria spent some three billion dollars to get ready, Ivanov says, but “Russia’s expenses, considering all [its] problems with corruption will be one and a half times greater.”
The idea of pursuing the world cup, the writer says, “according to rumors belongs to Vladimir Putin,” and that explains why “the tactics of the struggle of the Russian Football Union … repeat the pattern of the struggle for the Olympiad in Sochi: Everything is being build on the basis of the personal guarantees of the prime minister.”
Once again, “Putin is asserting that problems with financing will not arise because the main part of the expenditures will be assumed by the government. Besides, [the prime minister] has declared that the Russian powers that be are prepared to introduce a visa-free regime for participants and guests of the championship.”
If FIFA gives Russia the nod, “the carrying out of such an enormous enterprise can harm the budget of the country to an unjustified degree.” Building all the stadiums and support facilities for the 2018 championships would be expensive and hard; building them when Russia is also building facilities for the other games will be doubly so.
“Of course,” Ivanov says, “for our country nothing is impossible, but the achievement of such grandiose goals may cost Russia and what is the main thing its people too much.” And Russians need to remember that these decisions were “taken by one man,” who did not consult with anyone or consider whether Russia can afford these things.
(The situation is even worse, the sports expert continues. On the one hand, Moscow officials have changed the calendar of football matches in Russia, something that will require the construction of covered stadiums. And on the other, no one knows how these stadiums will be used after competitions, with some saying they will be outdoor markets.)
Ivan Golunov, a business journalist based in Novosibirsk, says that the Russian authorities are overstating the role that private investors will play in paying for all of this because as he shows in a blog, the Russian powers that be are providing low cost loans to the businesses involved (
Consequently, the real burdens of these games on Russian tax payers will be far higher than Putin is saying, even if the final costs of these projects do not continue to spiral upward as they have in the past, tripling over the last three years in the case of the construction of the Sochi Olympics alone.
Indeed, he suggests, the only Russian firms which are actually investing their own money without massive subsidies from the government are those which want to expiate their “sins before the government,” an explanation of what is, Goludnov says, “the most effective motivator of investors in Sochi-2014.”
But even if Putin overcomes all these problems and these competitions take place, they may not bring the glory to Russia that the prime minister is hoping for. Last week, several “legendary Soviet sportsmen” said that “they no longer believe in the victory of Russia at the ‘home-field’ Olympics in 2014 (
Nikolay Durakov, a Soviet hockey star, said that he “does not have great hopes” for Russian competitors at Sochi. “We have too few sportsman of that level,” he continued, because Russia does not have the training system that the Soviet Union did and consequently cannot produce champions at will.

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