Russia hopes its hosting of the 2018 World Cup will dispel negative stereotypes about the country by showcasing modern stadiums and transport networks, the head of the Russian organizing committee said.
The country is hosting the World Cup in a hugely ambitious project championed by Russian President Vladimir Putin costing US$20 billion that will include host cities from the Baltic Sea to the Ural Mountains.
Yet organizing committee chief Alexei Sorokin told the Sport Express newspaper that Russia still had to disprove stereotypes which the country inherited from its Soviet past.
He said that the successful hosting of the 2012 European soccer championship by ex-Soviet Ukraine will likely help Russia.
“Russia still suffers from the negative stereotypes from the past and we need to disprove this,” he said. “We need to disprove it in reality not just in words.
“The Euro 2012 co-hosts Ukraine’s image also suffered from the rumors. The ill-wishers said that Ukraine is a dangerous country with extraordinary high prices and urged people not to visit Ukraine’s part of the event,” Sorokin said. “We must pursue a preemptive tactic and do our best to avoid such claims.”
Sorokin said that he expected no problems with accommodation of the participating teams and their supporters during the World Cup.
“We also have a favorable forecast about the fans’ accommodation as the private business showed serious interest,” he added.
However, Sorokin said that the organizers should never rest on their laurels as there was a lot of hard work remaining.
Not only stadiums, but new airports, hotels and roads need to be built in several provincial cities which until now have seen only a trickle of visitors and are almost unknown to the outside world.
As well as the well-known cities of Moscow and St Petersburg, the World Cup will see games played in far-flung locations like the exclave of Kaliningrad on the Baltic, Saransk in little-known Mordovia and Yekaterinburg in the Urals.
“We should have the most modern venues by 2018 ... This is a very hard task, but we have no other choice but to fulfill it,” he said.
Sorokin said FIFA representatives have not issued a single complaint on the organizing committee’s work so far.
“The FIFA representatives are visiting us so often that I have a feeling that they live here on a permanent basis,” Sorokin said. “Neither the president nor the secretary-general of this organization have issued a single unfavorable comment upon our activity.”
The organizing committee chief added that though England was furious after losing the race for the right to host the 2018 World Cup, hard feelings had given way to cooperation as top British officials showed their intention to cooperate with the Russian organizers.
“We recently had a very productive meeting with the British sports minister and ambassador in Russia. We have confirmed our joint intention to be on friendly terms and cooperate,” he said.
Russia was awarded the right to host the World Cup in December 2010 in a controversial decision which was bitterly criticized by beaten rivals, including England, as tainted by corruption.
Sorokin also said that though the country’s railways failed to receive the budget funding to build a a high-speed train from Moscow to the most easterly World Cup host city, Yekaterinburg, it would hardly become a serious problem for the organizers.