Russia steps up for its greatest sporting challenge

4th Dec 2010

Having bagged rights to the 2018 World Cup, Russia must spend billions to get its infrastructure up to Fifa standards. However the legacy and possible gains are unlimited, as BTN finds out.

If Sepp Blatter’s Fifa presidency will be remembered for one thing it will be his eye for taking the World Cup to untapped markets.

Russia is lucky in that South Africa’s World Cup was such a success – the assumption by Fifa Executive Committee now is that Russia is also capable of hosting a World Cup.

And going to Russia provides an exciting challenge. Unlike the mature markets of the losing bidders (England, Spain/Portugal and Holland/Belgium), Russia is an emerging football economy. And Fifa likes to fill such footballing “white spots”.

Hosting the 2018 World Cup in Russia marks not only a new football territory – and the first former Eastern bloc country to host the tournament – but also an untapped tourism destination.

For years, the need to obtain a visa, lack of affordable and quality hotels, and poor transport infrastructure has hindered Russia’s inbound tourism market.

However with the 2018 World Cup now in the bag, Russia has a once-in-a-generation opportunity and benchmark to create a lasting legacy from the World Cup.

For starters, the president Dmitry Medvedev has promised to scrap visas for holders of World Cup tickets, which could also pave the way for smoothing entry restrictions for international visitors in the future.

Russia’s tourism ministry said it would promote Intourist, the country’s biggest tour operator acquired for by Thomas Cook in a $45m deal last week, as exclusive manager of the event.

As part of its bid strategy, the Russian government also promised that football fans would be able to travel for free between host cities – the distance between the western most host (Kaliningrad) and the most eastern (Yekaterinburg) is 2,500 kilometres.

(New territories such as Russia and Qatar are popular at Fifa HQ)

This makes it essential that Russia’s dilapidated transport infrastructure, which remains largely unchanged from the Soviet era, is upgraded.

Hotels too need upgrading and building. Many existing properties are outdated and overpriced. So as well as renovating, new hotels must be built to address the bed shortage.

Removing language barriers with

The language barrier – and different alphabet – will prove a challenge for fans so English-based mobile guides such as will be essential.

(Miss Russia and Miss World 2009 Ksenia Sukhinova uses to find everything from hotels to restuarants)

During the South Africa World Cup, provided detailed information about accommodation, attractions, dining, city guides, and transport information tailored for users on the go, and includes host cities, including Durban ( ), Port Elizabeth ( ), Bloemfontein (, Johannesburg ( ), Pretoria ( ), Nelspruit ( ),
Polokwane ( ), and Rustenburg ( ).

At Fifa 2018, will be providing similar services for key host cities Moscow (, St Peterburg ( ) and Novgorad ( ).

(Miss World contenders found invaluable at Fifa 2010 in Johanessburg)


The World Cup will be played in 16 stadiums in 13 cities – all these will need to be either renovated or built from new. This will cost $3.8bn (£2.4bn), according to an official forecast.

Some estimates suggest that at least twice that amount could be needed to upgrade most airports, to develop high-speed rail services and to build roads and hotels.

Olympic experience

Russia’s progress in preparations for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi will not have gone unnoticed by the Fifa Exco.

Since it was awarded the games in 2007, Russia has made impressive infrastructure improvements as it takes on what has been dubbed “the most expensive and challenging project in its history”.

Telman Ismailov, chairman of Russia’s biggest property developer AST, is building almost 10 percent of the hotel space needed for the Olympics in Sochi.

Plans include Russia’s largest hotel complex. The project will cost Ismailov’s AST Group more than $1 billion. The 24.6 hectare Sodruzhestvo complex will have 5,500 rooms. The group will also build a 150-room hotel in the Imeretinskaya valley near Sochi on a 0.98 hectare site.

(The incredible Mardan Palace picked up top honours at this year’s World Travel Awards)

Ismailov is also the owner of Turkey’s Mardan Palace, voted “World’s Leading Luxury Hotel at the 2010 World Travel Awards, Europe’s most expensive resort, costing $1.65 billion to build.

Other Russian oligarchs have been tapped by the government to fund the Olympics, and Vladimir Putin has said they should also help foot the bill for the World Cup.

Roman Abramovich, the billionaire metals tycoon and owner of Chelsea football club, said he was ready to become a partner to the authorities in preparing for the World Cup.

(Mardan Palace, GM, Cumhur Ozen picks up “World’s Leading Luxury Resort” at World Travel Awards 2010 Grand Final in London)

To implement all the projects, the government will also need to invest vast amounts of its money and effort. As with the 2014 Winter Olympics, full state guarantees will be given to the World Cup project.

Like South Africa, Russia’s eventual financial success – or failure – in organising and hosting the tournament might be evident only years after it is over.

Sport tourism

The World Cup 2018 prize for Russia is expected to deliver a windfall in travel and tourism receipts. Sport tourism is travel industry’s fastest growing sector, and will contribute an astonishing 14 percent of overall travel and tourism receipts by the end of the year, according to World Sport Destination Expo, the only global exhibition and business forum dedicated to showcasing the full spectrum of Sport Tourism related products and services..

(The inaugural WSDE - co-hosted alongside the 2010 World Cup in Johannesburg)

At a time when some traditional tourism trends are in decline, Sport Tourism continues to flourish and is set to grow exponentially in the next decade.

Yet the complex mechanics of Sport Tourism has not yet been fully understood or realised.  The annual WSDE aims to present the future business deals and source new contacts and markets, but also to gain invaluable insights from the advanced knowledge of market leaders.

WSDE will take place in Bangkok, capital city and business hub of the magnificent Kingdom of Thailand from 27-30 September 2011. This year it was co-located in Johanessburg alongside the Fifa 2010 World Cup.


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After one of the toughest bidding competitions in World Cup history, Russia has fended off rival bids from England and joint bids from Belgium/Netherlands and Spain/Portugal to win rights to host the 2018 Fifa World Cup.

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