Richard van Poortvliet: Forget Brazil, Russia is coming

Aleksey Sorokin, Russia’s CEO for the FIFA 2018 World Cup, comes across as a very amenable character. Smartly dressed and speaking in perfect English, with a slight American accent gained from his time studying in North America, he is extremely relaxed, even though the biggest sporting event ever to take place in the country, is a little over four years away.

The spotlight is yet to shine its full glare on Russia, however this will change following the World Cup in Brazil in June and Sorokin is looking forward to the extra attention.

“We are happy to be in the limelight for the next four years and we hope we can prove a lot of things over the course of the preparation and certainly the World Cup itself,” the 41 year-old said. “There are very ambitious tasks and very ambitious achievements that we are looking to carry out.”

Ambitious is an understatement, as the development of the country’s footballing infrastructure over the next four years, should help revolutionise the game in Russia for generations to come. All 12 stadiums in 11 cities will be either built from scratch, or under-go extensive renovations and so far, everything is going to plan.

“Everything is well on schedule. Two stadiums in Kazan and Sochi are ready and Spartak’s stadium will be opened on July 24 this year,” the head of the 2018 World Cup organising committee said. “Next year the stadium in St. Petersburg will be ready for use and then gradually we will see the other stadiums opened. Everything is on schedule. We do not need to worry at the moment.”

If Russia does manage to get all their stadiums completed on time then they will avoid the headaches that Brazil is experiencing at the moment. With just over two months until the first match in Sao Paulo between the hosts and Croatia, there are still concerns about four venues, while only six were completed in time for last year’s Confederations Cup. The Russia 2018 Organising Committee plan to be out in force in Brazil, with Sorokin saying, “there is a lot that we can learn”.

“We will embark on a large-scale observer programme. We will have a lot of opportunities to promote ourselves there. It is pretty certain we will have a Russia House there, where there will be displays from the Russian cities, who will have the opportunity to show what they have up their sleeve for the fans in 2018. We hope to learn a lot, it’s our last opportunity,” Sorokin commented, with a distinct smile on his face.

Despite harsh critiscm before the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics, Russia showed they were able to put on a stunning show. The $51 billion price tag would have undoubtedly helped this, though Sochi has been left with excellent infrastructure for generations to come, such as a new airport and excellent road and rail links. The venues won high praise from the athletes, who had their every need catered for and Sorokin is looking for a repeat in just over four years time.

“We showed the world we can be hospitable and well organized.” he said. “We can have fun, together with the world; so these are things we will implement and develop in 2018.”

The task facing Russia to get ready for the 2018 World Cup is great. However, at this very early stage, it looks like the country is well on track to have everything in place well before the competition gets underway.

The task facing Russia to get ready for the 2018 World Cup is great. However, at this very early stage, it looks like the country is well on track to have everything in place well before the competition gets underway.

Richard van Poortvliet is a sport presenter and correspondent at Russia Today, based in Moscow.