{mosimage} 7 December ~ So it seems Milton Keynes may not, after all, host a World Cup match in my lifetime; instead the non-football town hosting group stage games in 2018 will likely be Saransk, 400 miles to the east of Moscow. It has never hosted top-flight football, and the projected stadium there might come to be, as some have suggested, like a museum once the tournament finishes. However, the potential long-term impact of a World Cup on the smaller Russian venues is something that cannot be ignored.

Russia currently has little to offer in the way of world-class stadiums, and perhaps even less in terms of good roads and hotels. Writing in Sport Express, Evgeny Dzichkovsky described the bid as being won on nothing but “strong desire and money”. But it is a victory meaning much more to the country than a month of football and plenty of tourists, as Dzichkovsky went on to explain: “[In winning the bid] Russia won the conscious and gradual erosion of social inequalities in our society; Russia won the beginning of a battle with lawlessness in the police and among football hooligans; with theft and dishonesty; with flashiness and lawlessness with money; with football schools that don’t work properly and a weak national side; with fixed matches and corrupt referees.”

The tournament could have a huge impact on Russian society. However, it is one thing to declare war on such ills and quite another to win them. Also writing in Sport Express, Igor Rabiner commented that in the post-decision press conference Prime Minister Vladimir Putin seemed to find it easier to deal with technical issues than social ones. Although stadium projects in both Moscow and St Petersburg have fallen behind schedule, new venues will be built with help from the richest people in Russia. Fixed matches were described as a problem, but one that exists in England too: though this may be true, it is unlikely that the English second tier has as many as 80 to 90 per cent of games fixed, which is what some estimate to be the case in Russia.

Another of Russian football’s ills, racism, was described by Putin as a global problem that needed to be fought by every country. However, as Rabiner pointed out, racism does not appear to be actively fought in Russian stadiums. The day after the winning bid was announced, Lokomotiv Moscow and Ghana midfielder Haminu Draman told the BBC that “it will be difficult for African teams to play in Russia unless things change” because of racist chanting and abuse. Initiatives to deal with the problem are clearly not working – Draman noted that in places such as St Petersburg, black players are always targeted.

The many racist comments following this story on do not give much hope of the problem being solved in the near future. My experience of watching football in the country suggests that the authorities will probably manage to paper over the cracks, but nothing more: large numbers of police will be deployed, known hooligans prevented from attending games and racist banners will be quickly removed. However, racist chanting by a few hundred people is not easily be dealt with; it can only be hoped that education and a change in mentality prevail in the interim.

The choice of Russia will mean an interesting – though perhaps not always straightforward – tournament for football fans, and, if infrastructure projects are managed well, it will make a difference to many lives. However, if Dzichkovsky’s dreams of a better society are to be fulfilled, it will take more than just the money of the super-rich. Saul Pope

Comments (4)
Comment by gintsr 2010-12-07 12:51:31

Dzichkovsky had a dream but I'll say: "Forget it. It's only dream."

If you think about reality of dream try to think about Sochi'14 and impact of it. Zero impact for solving Dzichkovsky's problems.

Comment by FCKarl 2010-12-07 15:21:22

Practically any country in the world could hide its warts and blemishes for just 5-7 weeks. Example: Do like South Africa did - cancel all vacations for police and military during that time period and threaten firings for any violators. Increase all penalties for even petty crime to draconian levels. That gave the the World the (mis)impression during June/July 2010 that the crime statistics were exaggerations.

Please do not misunderstand. I would wish all Russians ALL successes in eliminating daily corruption and mistreatment in the small and big things of life.

It would be a beautiful thing to see Russia emerge from the repercussions of 73 years of communism's evils.

It is just that holding a tournament for 7 weeks (even with some international media attention in events like the FIFA Confederations Cup in June 2017) won't fix things.

Perhaps Mr. Dzichkovsky will look to Poland as it hosts Euro 2012 to see if this honor of hosting cleans up full-scale corruption at all levels in Poland's football leagues.

I am not a pessimist, rather a realist. Hosting an event does not mean your problems evaporate. It can be a small catalyst for change perhaps, but it is not the change itself.

It takes far more. It takes an ironclad commitment that comes from the changes inside a man's soul. First one soul, then several. Then a whole town, city.

Comment by G.Man 2010-12-09 05:45:24

"Example: Do like South Africa did - cancel all vacations for police and military during that time period and threaten firings for any violators. Increase all penalties for even petty crime to draconian levels. That gave the the World the (mis)impression during June/July 2010 that the crime statistics were exaggerations."

That's not quite correct. Of course, security was beefed up massively, but only in areas where there were football fans, which in turn are areas where crime rates aren't that outrageous (with the possible exception of Johannesburg). Murders still happened where they mostly happen: in the townships. The huge security presence during the World Cup was to ensure that no tourist would be harmed, in a context where the likelihood of tourists being harmed was not much greater than it is on the streets of New York in the first place.

Comment by dawleylad 2010-12-09 11:56:29

Despite Englans sour grapes it is good for Russian football that they won.


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