Vanity rubs with poverty at £8bn World Cup

Eyesore: Yekaterinburg’s ground has a temporary stand as renovation was not finished in time.

Is hosting the World Cup worth it? Russia’s tournament looks set to be the most expensive of all time. Organisers hope it will reboot the country’s economy, but many remain unconvinced.

A walk through the centre of Moscow gives the impression that Russia is a country of limitless wealth. Sparkling new glass buildings rise up on every corner. The streets are crammed with designer clothing stores and jewellery shops. Maybachs and limousines jostle for space on the traffic-clogged roads. The ostentatious wealth of the oligarchs is everywhere.

Initially Vladimir Putin said that he would set aside £15 billion for Russia to host the World Cup, although this was slashed to £8 billion a few years later. For such a rich country, surely this is mere pocket change?

But move away from the glitz of Moscow and you find a very different Russia — one where £8 billion would go a long way. This is a country where the average monthly wage is about £458, or a little under £15 per day.

Russia has a lower gross domestic product than Italy, a country in notorious economic turmoil, despite having a population over twice the size.

So where has the £8 billion gone? The biggest outlay has been on stadiums. Of the 12 grounds being used for the World Cup, ten are new and the two others have been completely renovated.

Building big grounds in Moscow and St Petersburg makes a lot of sense. Those cities are home to big clubs that regularly play in the UEFA Champions League.

But what will happen to the stadium in, for example, Kaliningrad? The local team, Baltika, average crowds of 4,000, yet the new stadium has a capacity of 35,212.

This is a pressing concern. Brazil has struggled to find uses for three of the state-of-the-art grounds it built for the 2014 World Cup. In Athens, many of the arenas built for the 2004 Olympics now lie derelict. Bids from Budapest and Hamburg to host the 2028 Olympics were scuppered by political opposition.

To ensure a legacy beyond sport, the rest of the money is being spent modernising airports and roads. But vast swathes of this huge country are likely to be untouched by these improvements.

Is hosting big sporting tournaments worth it?

White elephants

Of course it is worth it, say some. The World Cup is a huge once-in-a-lifetime party for the host nation, and these things are worth spending lots of money on. These concerns always melt away when the tournament is inevitably a roaring success. And it is good value for money: infrastructure improves and tourists visit — and many will return.

Think how much better that money could be spent, reply others. It could be given to the 20 million Russians below the poverty line; it could help solve Russia’s disastrous opioid crisis. And for repressive countries like Russia and Qatar, hosting World Cups is likely to simply highlight their deficiencies. This vanity project is a waste of money.

You Decide

  1. Is hosting the World Cup worth the money?
  2. Would you consider going on holiday to Russia?


  1. List five requirements you think a World Cup host country needs to have.
  2. Present a plan for your city or country to host a major event — it does not have to be sport — and present a plan for how it will make money long-term.

Some People Say...

“Sport is all about money.”

Lynn Samuels

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
Russia has a budget of £8 billion for the 2018 World Cup, which makes it the most expensive World Cup ever held. Much of the money was spent on brand new stadiums to host the matches, but the government has also poured money into local infrastructure, as well as providing free trains for fans to travel on between matches.
What do we not know?
How much of the £8 billion has been lost to corruption. We also do not know whether the problems experienced by South Africa and Brazil in the last two World Cups will ever dampen countries’ desire to host the tournament. It certainly looks like the Russian public are excited about this event: almost every match is sold out. What remains to be seen is how often the new stadiums will be full after the summer is over.

Word Watch

The Russian capital is ranked as one of the world’s most expensive cities to live in.
Ten are new
All except grounds in Moscow and Yekaterinburg were built after 2013.
UEFA Champions League
Europe’s premier club football competition.
An exclave wedged between Lithuania and Poland, Kaliningrad used to be Königsberg, the capital of East Prussia. An exclave is a territory that is entirely surrounded by other countries and is detached from the rest of the country.
Budapest and Hamburg
In Budapest, opposition parties campaigned heavily against a bid, saying that the money could be spent on better healthcare, education and transport in the city. In Hamburg a referendum in 2015 saw 51.6% of people vote against an official bid.
Russia’s disastrous opioid crisis
Russia has an estimated 2.5 million heroin addicts — far more than any other country in the world.
Qatar hosting the 2022 World Cup is surely the most controversial choice Fifa has ever made. It is estimated that over 1,500 badly paid labourers have died during construction of the tournament’s stadiums.


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