Russia: Blatter's desire to spread the love at heart of Russian win
Cahal Milmo is the chief reporter of The Independent and has been with the paper since 2000. He was born in London and previously worked at the Press Association news agency. He has reported on assignment at home and abroad, including Rwanda, Sudan and Burkina Faso, the phone hacking scandal and the London Olympics. In his spare time he is a keen runner and cyclist, and keeps an allotment.
Friday 03 December 2010
"We go to new lands," said Sepp Blatter, concluding events in the Messe exhibition hall yesterday. In front of him the Russian contingent were celebrating, an eclectic mix of Andrei Arshavin, the pole vaulter Yelena Isinbayeva, the supermodel Natalia Vodianova and a gaggle of men in suits. Russia had long been seen as the front-runners, despite their bid being largely contained on paper and stunning computer-generated images of their proposed stadiums, not least because they were perceived as the first choice of the president of Fifa. And presidents, as any Russian knows, usually get what they want.
In notable comparison to his British counterpart, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin had declined to head for Zurich for the frenetic final days of vote-chasing. In some quarters that was seen as the country's most powerful man distancing himself from a losing cause, but it turned out be nothing of the sort. His statement on Wednesday evening attacking those looking to "smear" Fifa was clearly well received by those who mattered in Zurich. Blatter made a clear reference to media attacks on his organisation during yesterday's proceedings.
Yesterday morning Putin announced that he would fly to Zurich if Russia won – when they did he was reported to be in a meeting with the country's chief rabbi. By last night he was in Zurich soaking up the glory. "Russia loves football. Russia knows what football is," he said. "The decision corresponds with Fifa's philosophy for developing football, especially in those regions of the world where that development is needed."
The vote, an overwhelming one too, is something of a gamble. After South Africa and, especially, Brazil 2014 it will be the third successive tournament in a large country and is a much riskier choice than any of its western European competitors.
The infrastructure needed is huge, but hugely in Russia's favour for Fifa is that the whole project has been assured of government funding. As yesterday's presentation – a solid effort that was bettered only by England's – outlined, the government will happily foot a very large bill to pay for the upgraded rail and road links that will join St Petersburg in the north with Sochi on the Black Sea coast nearly 2,000 miles away.
Only two of the 16 stadiums exist, and both the Luzhniki – which hosted the 2008 Champions League final between Manchester United and Chelsea – and Dynamo stadiums in Moscow will be redeveloped. The others will be built from scratch and the images in the impressive brochures are spectacular. The final will be held in the Luzhniki in front of 89,000 supporters.
Fifa's inspection team, which had placed England above the winners, warned that large-scale construction would have to start immediately, but the Russians have brushed off suggestions that they will struggle to complete the project in time. "It's a big plus for us to start from scratch," claimed Andrei Kanchelskis, the former Manchester United winger.
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