Two years ago, on 2 December 2010, the FIFA Executive Committee made a historic decision, awarding Russia the right to host the 2018 FIFA World CupTM.
For the first time in over 80 years since its first edition, the planet’s most important football tournament will be taking place in the world’s largest country, adding momentum to the game’s development across an area of more than 17 million square kilometres.
The euphoria which followed the Russian bid’s triumph has been replaced by an appreciation of the scale of the work that needs to be done in order to achieve what is an ambitious goal: staging a FIFA World Cup.
The first significant step on the path to hosting FIFA’s showpiece event was the naming of the tournament’s Host Cities. The announcement was made live on television during an eye-catching ceremony on 29 September. The whole country looked on as FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter and the programme’s other guests named the cities that will be staging matches at Russia 2018. The ceremony was accompanied by jubilation and celebratory fireworks in all the cities, clear evidence of the sense of anticipation that people are feeling about the huge festival of football set to take place in Russia in 2018.
One of those special guests was Brazilian legend and Korea/Japan 2002 winner Roberto Carlos, who had this to say of the experience: “Taking part in the ceremony where the list of the Host Cities for the World Cup was announced was one of my brightest memories from the past year. I was touched by how Russia’s people came together in support of the idea of hosting the tournament.
"The people who came along that evening to take part in the celebrations were so full of genuine joy and warmth that I was left in no doubt: Russia will stage a wonderful tournament for admirers of football from right round the world. I’ve been living and working here for almost two years now, and in that time Russia has become my second home.”
That evening, among the multitude of guests taking part in the ceremony were two young heroes who can genuinely say that they too contributed to that historic victory in Zurich on 2 December 2010. Twin brothers Artem and Maxim Shpinev, who played the role of Sasha Denisov in the Russian bid’s 'Sasha, wake up!' clip, had a central role in what was a very important event on the road to Russia 2018. The boys helped some of the other people taking part in the ceremony to announce the Host Cities. But in their hearts, just like thousands of other boys right across the country, what they are hoping for is to be playing in the planet’s most important football tournament.
“It was really cool to be on the same stage as President Blatter, Roberto Carlos and Fabio Capello,” said Artem. “We even managed to get their autographs as mementoes. Now we’re dreaming we’ll have the chance to get the autographs of our favourite footballers, Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, when they’re here in Russia for the World Cup.
"Even better than that would be to be playing for Russia in 2018 ourselves. By that time, we’ll both be exactly 17. To be honest, sometimes we even dream that we’re stepping out on to the pitch at Luzhniki wearing the national team shirt. Just like that clip with Sasha."
Preparations for Russia 2018 are still at a very early stage, with the tournament almost six years away, but FIFA has already handed the Russia 2018 Local Organising Committee (LOC) exclusive privileges regarding the use of FIFA World Cup branding. Russia has become the tournament’s first host nation to use a temporary FIFA World Cup emblem before the launch of the tournament’s official logo, scheduled for the second half of 2014.
In addition, for the first time in FIFA World Cup history, the Host Cities have launched official posters at such an early stage. In decorating the posters with images such as a winged snow leopard, a mythical bird, a stone flower and multi-coloured waves lapping at the walls of the Kremlin, the Host Cities have displayed their identity and individuality, while preserving a united passion for football.
The temporary Russia 2018 emblem and the posters produced by the tournament’s Host Cities are designed to create a FIFA World Cup atmosphere early on while preparations are in progress, and to give supporters and indeed all Russians the chance to get a sense of how the tournament is drawing closer. An opinion poll commissioned by the Russia 2018 LOC and carried out by VTsIOM in 42 of the country’s regions suggested that Russians are following preparations for the FIFA World Cup with interest. Almost two-thirds of Russians, 65 per cent of those surveyed, are aware to at least some extent that Russia is preparing to host the world’s largest sporting event in 2018. Moreover, 89 per cent of those polled believe that our country will be able to organise and stage a successful tournament.
“The World Cup is more than just 64 matches featuring the planet’s best national teams; it’s about the unbeatable atmosphere created by fans and volunteers, and the people living in the host cities,” said Russia goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev, who was the first Russia 2018 ambassador to be appointed. The 26-year-old enthused that “as a Russia 2018 ambassador, I believe my main mission is to engage as many of Russia’s football supporters as possible in the preparations for this awesome event. In our country we have such hospitable and warm-hearted people that I am in no doubt: Russia will stage the best World Cup in history.”
2012 saw the start of full-scale preparations for FIFA’s flagship event. In March, the Russia 2018 LOC set up 'Arena-2018', a specialist organisation which will monitor and advise on stadium design and construction. The organisation will be making sure that the deadlines and successive stages of the design, construction and reconstruction of stadiums are met, and that FIFA’s requirements are observed. With six years still to go until the tournament, five stadiums are already being built – the arenas in Kazan, Saint Petersburg, Saransk and Sochi, and Spartak Moscow’s stadium. Work on the design of four arenas, in Volgograd, Ekaterinburg, Nizhny Novgorod and Rostov-on-Don, will begin before the end of the year.
Also optimistic about Russia 2018 and the benefit it would have on the national game was the president of the Russian Football Union Nikolay Tolstykh, who had this to say: “Russian football is developing dynamically, and that’s something that lots of fans and specialists right around the world have pointed out. We have a strong national team, talented youngsters and competitive clubs. And there’s no doubt that staging the 2018 World Cup will help Russian football move to a fundamentally new level. There’ll be modern sports infrastructure, in the form of new stadiums, training sites and team bases.
"Football will attract young specialists who, thanks to the World Cup, will already have experience of taking part in competition at the very highest level. In that sense, there isn’t any other event which brings as many benefits as the World Cup can bring. And it’s nice to see such effective work from the Russia 2018 LOC, which has a superb and productive relationship with the Russian Football Union.”
Russia’s national team coach Fabio Capello, who has begun the qualification cycle for the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil with four confident victories, was equally enthusiastic about the potential benefits of Russia 2018. “The World Cup will provide major opportunities for the development of football in Russia. And I’m not just talking about new sports infrastructure, although of course that’s extremely important as a foundation for securing important victories. I’m talking about the national team putting on a successful performance in front of their supporters. The work to build that team is already under way, on the road to the 2014 World Cup. And as the manager of the national team, I can see a lot of potential in our young players, many of whom are capable of playing a leading role in the team in 2018,” he said.
This year, experts from the Russia 2018 LOC have been involved in drawing up a list of the facilities to be included in the investment programme which will provide funds to develop the infrastructure required for the tournament. This programme will help make the tournament as successful as possible and ensure there is a legacy for many generations of Russians to come.
From the moment tournament preparations began, the Russia 2018 LOC has been receiving huge support from the Russian government. The drawing-up of draft federal legislation on the FIFA World Cup provides evidence of this support. In late September, the bill was tabled for consideration by the State Duma and was passed in its first reading.
“The opening match of the World Cup is still five-and-a-half years away, but the LOC and the host cities are already engaged in preparing for the tournament, said the CEO of the Russia 2018 LOC Alexey Sorokin. “We have a full understanding of FIFA’s requirements in terms of World Cup infrastructure and operations. We are set to examine other countries’ experiences of hosting major events, in particular the 2013 FIFA Confederations Cup and the 2014 FIFA World Cup, both of which will be taking place in Brazil. Time is one of our advantages, and we intend to make use of it to put together a World Cup which will make all of Russia’s football fans proud,” he added, in summing up the LOC’s work in 2012.