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FIFA World Cup 2018 Russia – Will It Go Ahead?

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Russia as a country, as a movement and as a powerful force has one of the most fascinating histories. A self-proclaimed world-empire in the seventeen hundreds, an increase of socialist regimes in the late nineteenth century, the infamous revolution of 1917, the rise and fall of the Soviet Union under Lenin and Stalin and the country’s alliance with Adolf Hitler and his Nazi Germany.

Not to mention the consistent battle to discover forms of existence in space over America. Russia has a remarkable timeline and now it seems Vladimir Putin is more than a little eager to add to it with the current conflict that escalated with Ukraine.

To add further content to the country’s literature, a rather controversial bidding process saw the Russian’s gain victory to host the 2018 World Cup. From football’s versatile game-face, every continent deserves their taste of staging the game’s most highlighted international tournament, in particular to those who haven’t had the luxury of hosting the lucrative event before or to those who have a rather poor record in terms of lifting gold at this level. With Vladimir Putin expected to be elected for a sixth term as Russian president, regardless if Russia make an impression on the football front, Putin sees the 2018 World Cup as a chance to prove the country can return to being a strong power on the political stage.

Russia seems to have the will power and promise to build the entities required to host the World Cup in 2018. However, there are certain remains that reflect badly on their image and right to serve such an occasion to the rest of the world.

To begin, there has been distinctive publication on Russia’s attitude towards racism whilst also being particularly vocal on their opinions on sexual discrimination, regrettably joining those who despise the acceptance of racial and sexual orientation. This is a problem that back-dates from the early nineteen hundreds and the country’s association with the Nazi regime. There was severe criticism surrounding the 2014 Winter Olympics held in Sochi as it was branded that the games were being held on top of a graveyard following the death of several Muslim workers.

Human rights issues were of high concern yet the Russian government were said to dismiss any suggestions that Sochi discredited country’s reputation. National Olympic Committee members who fronted the allocation of votes to Sochi were said to receive multiple threats from rebel terrorists who planned to torment the games, which saw increased security surrounding the athletes taking part.

Also during the 2014 winter games, Sochi was subject to anti-gay demonstrations. The games became famous for being the most expensive winter Olympics in history rather than for the right reasons, with insinuations on corruption with over-friendly relationships between the Russian government and construction companies which had never been heard of before. Hotels were not up to scratch a week before the opening ceremony, whilst public safety in such resorts was said to be of very low standard.

Despite such worries and apparent political influences on the games, the event was seen as being well-organised with changed opinions said to have eradicated any initial criticisms that saw gay protests taking place and suggestions that the Olympics brought reminders of the Russian-Circassian War between 1763-1864.

The unconvincing relationship with Ukraine has proven to be very unsettling, whilst being seen as a matter that needs to be addressed before the summer of 2018. It is a matter that has been brewing since February 2014 due to Russia’s intervention of Crimea.

War has broken out in areas such as Donbass which has restricted Ukrainian champions Shahktar Donetsk from playing games on their home patch due to heavy bombing which has seen the Donbass Arena lose most of its shape and original foundations.

It is said that Ukraine feels constantly under threat, especially as Russia broke the agreement set in place by the Budapest memorandum following the takeover of Crimea which broke promises to protect and keep peace, whilst steering away from divulging in the practice of nuclear weaponry. Both countries have been purposely separated by UEFA during the qualification process for the European Championships to be held in France in next year, whereas there is growing concern towards whether or not the Ukrainians should reach the finals in 2018.

There is further worry over safety, not only for the citizens from both nations but for those who intend to travel as fans of other countries during the World Cup in 2018, due to the intense relationship that has been building between Russia and Ukraine over the past twelve months.

To add further weight to concerns over Russia’s behaviour, there were allegations surrounding the crash of Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur which killed all 285 passengers and the 15 crew members on board. Coincidence or not, the plane plummeted to ground near Torez in Donetsk, Ukraine.

The flight is said to have been tracked by the Russians in an attempt to cause further harm following events in Crimea. Clarification on the reasons behind this dramatic incident have never been brought to a conclusion, however it is still strongly believed that Russia was the force behind the tragedy.

Beyond the conflict between the two countries there have been allegations to suggest that Russia’s World Cup bidding process was flawed due to apparent corruption, with payments said to be exchanged by the successful bidders and their voters.

The Qatar bid has been well documented for its ‘dodgy’ approach to the bidding process, more so than Russia’s campaign, however it is believed that both countries dwelled into impractical methods of securing their rights as hosts by tapping up voters to guarantee their backing. Funny enough both the 2018 and 2022 World Cups were drawn out in the same selection process in February 2010 and have both been accused.

The Garcia report was never published after investigations on the allegations surrounding both bids was said to have been substantial enough to support any wrongdoing, so it is believed.

If Sepp Blatter is successful in his quest to remain as FIFA president ahead of his fellow candidates he has reiterated his stance on the situation, stating that both Qatar and Russia will still stand as hosts in 2018 and 2022. Despite calls for a revote, Blatter has promised to extinguish all concerns and to approve Russia under his authority to carry out the necessary work to stage the World Cup in 2018.

To give Russia some credibility, it is a country with plenty of leg room to accommodate millions of fans without them having to find habitat in neighbouring countries. However the competition will only be held in a small part of the world’s biggest country and yet is being highlighted as already the most expensive World Cup in history.

There will be no games played in Siberia nor will any take place in the North Caucasus region, most notably in Chechnya and Dagestan where impressive stadia has been built which could bring huge investment to the tournament. The area of which the competition is meant to cover is said to be determined by the intense relationship between the east and west, which has subsequently had influence on the current uproar with Ukraine.

Originally a determined plan was put forward for a 16-stadium tournament, but this was reduced in October 2011 to 14. The plan then saw another two arenas being cut out of the frame with Krasnodar and Yaroslavi dropping out in September 2012.

The tournament will span across eleven cities with two stadiums being centered to the capital in Moscow which stages the Luzhniki Stadium, an 81,000 seater which will host the final, is to be upgraded from holding more than 35,000, one of only three stadiums that can currently accommodate such an audience.

A majority of the venues require substantial overhauls and infrastructure improvements. Estimates of the planned construction has recently been quoted at a staggering £4.82bn with this expected to rise to double the total cost Brazil spent on the 2014 World Cup to approximately £12.2bn or above.

There are growing concerns with the country’s logistics, as although Russia holds the facilities, it is said that the organisation and speed of the public transport is more than a little inefficient. It could take some fans more than 24 hours to cover the stretch from Moscow, the country’s capital, to Yekaterinburg, the furthest destination east in terms of the area that the 2018 World Cup will hold.

Rumours of a high-speed rail network are said to be in the pre-production stages but with only three years left to erect such a large project there is major concern that the country is leaving itself without enough preparation time.

Will the tournament still go ahead? More than likely due to the impracticality of awarding a tournament to a new host with only three years to prepare for it.

Three years may seem like a long time, especially when hosts are elected some eight to twelve years prior to an event’s inception, convincing another nation to take on the responsibility could prove tricky. To counter this, as seen in the 2015 African Cup of Nations, hosts Equatorial Guinea organised the competition in just two months following Ebola fears which caused original anchors Morocco to pull the plug.

Putin is ready to invite the millions of football fans expected to visit by disabling the need for a visa for those intending on entering Russia. Despite the cooler climate conditions Russia itself is an appealing country, with monuments galore throughout cities such as Moscow and St. Petersburg, including Saint Basil’s Cathedral and The Kremlin in the country’s capital.

With Sochi proving to host a major event and shaking off any criticism with some memorable sporting performances, a football tournament spread around the country should have no problem when it comes to overshadowing the opinions of those who disapprove. 

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