World Cup On The Cheap?

There was plenty of fuss and fanfare with Russian President Vladimir Putin and outgoing FIFA president Sepp Blatter starring at the draw for the competition, but there’s a story suggesting the host country may be trying to do soccer’s 2018 World Cup on the cheap.

Photo: AP Photo / Dmitry Lovetsky
Construction of the new Zenit Stadium, which will host some of the matches of the 2018 World Cup in St. Petersburg, Russia. 

The Moscow Times, the city’s English-language daily newspaper, quotes Moscow deputy Mayor Marat Khusnullin saying refurbishing the Soviet-era Luzhniki to stage the final at a cost of $390 million is something of a bargain.

“On the current euro exchange rate, it will be one of the cheapest of all the stadiums which have been built or reconstructed in the last 10 years for a competition of this level,” he said. Not that Khusnullin is saying that cost-cutting is having a negative effect on his country’s ambitions for the world’s largest international soccer show.

“We’re setting a very high-quality level of construction. The entire roof of the stadium will be one whole media screen,” he explained. Still, keeping costs down remains crucial for Russia, which spent an estimated $50 billion on last year’s Winter Olympics in Sochi before the country hit an economic downturn.

Russia has already cut its World Cup budget from $11.7 billion to $11.15 billion, which has been mainly achieved by removing luxury hotels that organizers worried would have lain empty after the tournament. Russia’s other tactic is to replace expensive imported building materials from Europe with alternatives either produced locally or brought in from Asia.

A fall in the value of the ruble last year drove up the cost of imports and replacing them has become a major task. With three years to go, some of the 11 host cities have made more progress than others. In two of them, Yekaterinburg and Kaliningrad, arguments between federal and local authorities have delayed matters.

Full construction cannot start until federal authorities approve the final building plans. However, Russian officials say they are confident there will be no repeat of the delays which plagued last year’s host Brazil.