Arsenal and Chelsea owners could help finance 2018 World Cup in Russia as Vladimir Putin reaches out amid financial crisis

INSIDE LINES: Alisher Usmanov and Roman Abramovich among those being asked to help out

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Football can flash the cash here thanks to that £5bn TV deal but in Russia, hosts for the next World Cup, the game is on the breadline thanks to a slumping economy. So much so that Vladimir Putin, the president, is to call on Premier League connections to help his nation out of a financial hole over staging the 2018 tournament.

Two billionaires, Chelsea’s Roman Abramovich and Arsenal’s Alisher Usmanov, are among the oligarchs being asked to bankroll a World Cup now in trouble because of an impending recession caused by plunging oil prices and Western sanctions over Ukraine.

The Russian sports minister Vitaly Mutko has already announced a 10 per cent cut in the World Cup’s original $22bn budget, while Fifa president Sepp Blatter has suggested the number of venues could be reduced. So far this notion has been rejected, though Mutko says Russia will be looking to simplify the design of the stadiums without compromising Fifa’s requirements.

He also confirms the Kremlin are looking to attract private donors, though he would not say who these might be. But other Russian sources say Putin plans to call in favours from obliging oligarchs such as Abramovich and Usmanov, as he did when Russia staged the last global sporting extravaganza, Sochi’s $51bn Winter Olympics a year ago.

Last weekend Putin celebrated the anniversary of the most expensive Games, winter or summer, in history. It is already evident that the World Cup will not be anywhere near as lavish as Putin had demanded, and if the economy worsens, could be run on a shoestring. Some observers say that is why he may be spurred towards a permanent political settlement over Ukraine.

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Russia's President Vladimir Putin

 

But first he needs to get Russia’s super-rich émigrés on board. Sam Greene, director of King’s Russia Institute at King’s College London, says: “There seems to be something of an emerging understanding that the government will help the titans of the economy to maintain the liquidity they need to stay in business. In return for that, they remain quiet, they remain loyal, but they also maintain employment and they keep moving money through the economy.” And no doubt into the World Cup coffers.

Poor Commonwealth

The World Cup is not the only major sporting event where oil has brought troubled waters. Edmonton, known as the Oil Capital of Canada, has aborted its bid to host the 2022 Commonwealth Games because of economic pressures resulting from plummeting prices of the black stuff.

Instead it will be reluctantly “refocusing on 2026” – leaving the field open for the only other bidder, Durban. Sadly, within sport, there now appears to be a dwindling interest in staging the Games.

No go Ogogo

It is very much a waiting game in boxing these days, not least with Mayweather v Pacquiao. And queuing patiently for their world title shots are a fistful of Britons: Amir Khan, James DeGale, George Groves, Tyson Fury and Billy Joe Saunders. It’s long wait too for another bright hope, unbeaten middleweight Anthony Ogogo (left) who has had a second operation to clear infected scar tissue after an Achilles injury.

“I can’t wait to get back in the ring to start punching people and win a world title,” says the 25-year-old.

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