What does the World Cup mean for Russia?

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By organizing the World Cup 2018, Russia will turn the spotlight of the world on its territory for a month. More than the success of the sports event, Russia account to use this competition to show the world its ability to fit into world trade. A major challenge for the Putin administration. 

From the beginning, many geopolitical issues were related to the Organization of the 2018 World Cup and it is for this that Vladimir Putin worked as much to get it. Invest as much for football only makes sense if the ambitions and the expected benefits beyond sport. The expectations of Russian power are thus several scales.

International Level

Russia continues its policy of sports power (power sports) initiated from the second term of Vladimir Putin. This geopolitical approach of sports meets four axes:

  1. participate,
  2. win,
  3. organize 
  4. import into world sport governance bodies.

A plan that Moscow applied with major risk sometimes, as we have seen with the McLaren report certifying a system of institutionalized doping. So it was logical for Russia to be a contender for major international sporting events like the 2018 World Cup. From the Grand Prix F1 of Sochi and the Winter Olympics of 2014 to the Kazan swimming World Championships in 2015, hosting the biggest competition of world sport with the summer Olympic Games fits into a continuous strategy.

This ambition passes also through the development of the Russian sport internationally, but also by a strong Russian presence in sports bodies. What is sought, is to prove that as a country is capable of hosting the world, to show its strengths, while existing internationally on its governance. For the first two global sporting events, Russia was located on the map of the world as a leading player. In addition to this, working its image demonstrates the ability to influence and assert its power.

At the heart of the concert of the great nations, the Organization of the 2018 World Cup aims indeed prove important for the Russian people, observers and other global players that Russia is a must, at least, in the international system that Vladimir Putin is advocating a multilateral world where decisions are complex and are no longer the only dominant powers such as the United States makes the China or Europeans together within the G7. The issue is, therefore, international reaffirmation will, in a real geopolitical logic of power. At the continental scale, it is calibrated towards Europe and its Chinese neighbour who will try to bid logically for 2030 World Cup since yesterday FIFA announces that 2026 will be hosted by Canada, Mexico, and USA

Regional level

Russia can already boast to have beaten England in the controversial vote of December 2010 which saw FIFA give the Organization of the competition. On the other hand, by choosing including the likes of Kaliningrad for few games, so as to remind Europeans, his presence and continues to assert itself. It is very true, that relations are significantly cooled since the Russian intervention in the Crimea till now to the point of becoming almost frigid with the revelation of the case Skripal, who was targeted by an assassination attempt with the help of a nerve agent in Salisbury in the South of England. For example, sanctions aimed at Roman Abramovich are not foreign to this manifest tension, as well as the boycott by the highest political authorities of Poland.

National level

World Cup helps to strengthen the image of the leadership of Vladimir Putin, to demonstrate its ability to enhance Russia and strengthen the pride and national, although unity beyond the performance of the selection Russian, the Sbornaya, whose failure has already been anticipated. 

This World Cup concerned clearly Russian domestic politics and power issues across the country and its regionsBut after a triumphant re-election in March (76% of the vote), the issue is not to prove any control over the country. Vladimir Putin and his Government are intended to be used for other purposes. Outside of the territories related to the event and landscaping works policy that will enhance cities forgotten for many years such as Yekaterinburg and Saransk.  It wants to be the showcase of the country and its know-howParadoxically and naively optimistic none, football will help open Russia in the world and its tourists, highlighting a neglected or unknown heritage. Is so deeply economic and long-term.

Indeed, despite the rise in oil and gas prices and the end of the recession, the country is still suffering international sanctions. However, this World Cup will allow a significant development of the assets Russians in a country which will welcome as many tourists as Austria with more than 24 million tourists in 2016 for the EURO.

It is widely accepted that South Africa and Brazil benefited in the medium and long-term, like London after the 2012 Summer Olympics. By hosting the World Cup, Russia certainly makes moves like chess and make a statement:

to show the world, tourists, investors, and transnational corporations that it is welcoming and safe

and able to fit into the flow and global standards of the Globalization. For this, it is hoped that the World Cup goes to the best (security, terrorist risk, quality of reception, police surveillance, management of hooligans, racism…). Many problems which should minimize them, but we can imagine that Russia with regard to issues, will do its utmost to not ruin its investments and the implementation of its own strategy.

Nevertheless and beyond some limitations,  this World Cup will not be able to hide. the absence of freedom of the press, the deficit of real plurality of the political offer, the absence of democratic debate, the proper application of the rights in some cases, without mentioning the Russian intervention from internal and external powers. Despite that, let’s enjoy football with all the global fans and may the best win the trophy!

You can read more at our author’s blog here.

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