Joy for chosen ones, cold comfort for losers
Friday 03 December 2010
There were no street parties in Moscow last night – it was minus 16 degrees after all. But motorists waved Russian tricolours as they drove along the city's main ring road, and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin immediately boarded a plane to Zurich to have discussions with Fifa and congratulate the Russian bid team. For the first time in the history of the tournament, the World Cup will be held in eastern Europe. "We got it! Russia will host the 2018 Fifa World Cup! Now we need to prepare for it. And I hope our team will do well too," wrote President Dmitry Medvedev on his Twitter feed after the vote was announced last night.
But it was the Prime Minister who quickly assumed centre stage, as he so often does. He appeared on Russian television, saying that it was a great day for Russia, before dashing to Switzerland. That Mr Putin was not already in Zurich for the vote had been a late surprise. He released an extraordinary statement on Wednesday criticising "unacceptable" campaigning methods, and the "smearing" of members of the Executive Committee. His words were a thinly veiled attack on the England bid, and the Panorama documentary aimed at exposing corruption within Fifa.
It looked to many people like the Russians had thrown in the towel, and with the release of Mr Putin's statement bookmakers had immediately reinstated England as favourites for hosting the tournament. The country now has a colossal task ahead of it to prepare for the World Cup in eight years' time. Most of the stadiums for it will have to be built from scratch, and the Russian media have estimated that the total cost will be over £2.5bn. Road, rail and communications infrastructure will need to be upgraded, and dozens of hotels built. Many of the host cities are woefully unprepared for an influx of thousands of fans.
In London, meanwhile, the pre-recorded rallying cry of Mayor Boris Johnson, beamed in from Zurich, had failed to stir the freezing crowds. When the result came in, the assembled masses booed for a brief moment then, with a palpable sense of relief that the wait was finally over, quietly slipped away to begin the five-hour commute home.
With the Beatles' "Back In The USSR" playing to a crowd that had all but disappeared, the big screen briefly flicked on again, to show Mr Blatter opening a second envelope and awarding the 2022 tournament to Qatar. At least the sun was shining somewhere.
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