MOSCOW - Russians roared in triumph on
Thursday after the country won the right to host the 2018 World
Cup finals, sparking festivities in government halls and sports
bars across the frozen land.
Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who had complained of
unscrupulous competition in the contest, said he was leaving
Moscow immediately to fly to FIFA headquarters in Zurich to
thank the football governing body.
"In Russia we love football, we know about football and we
have everything to ensure that we hold the 2018 World Cup in a
very worthy way," Putin told reporters in Moscow.
"Of course we need to do a great deal - stadiums, airports,
hotels, roads - but that is the challenge, that is the
advantage of our bid because that means the development of world
football," Russia's paramount leader added.
The FIFA decision is a timely victory for Putin after leaked
U.S. diplomatic cables earlier this week cast the former KGB spy
as a leader who presides over corrupt officials and crooked
Transparency International rates Russia joint 154th out of
178 nations in its corruption perceptions index, along with
Cambodia, Kenya and Laos. Russia is perceived as more corrupt
than any other G20 or BRIC country.
Russia plans a massive building project to prepare for the
World Cup and the shares of Russian steel companies rallied on
Thursday on expectation that hosting the World Cup would fuel a
lucrative construction boom.
The defeat of three other European bids - England and the
joint bids of Netherlands/Belgium and Spain/Portugal - is a
matter of great pride for Russia, which became the first country
in Eastern Europe to win the right to hold the final.
Football fans sat tensely in rows of chairs facing a
wide-screen TV at a sports bar in central Moscow, roaring when
they saw that Russia was the winner.
"I'm thrilled that Russia is finally going to be seen on the
stage of international football," said Maxim Ivanov, 28, a
Spartak Moscow fan. "We hope that Russia getting the World Cup
will help develop domestic football here."
"Everyone here believed that the strength of the country
would be enough, and we were all sure that when Russia wants
something, it will get it," said Ivan Kuznetsov, 26.
"Hooray! Victory!" President Dmitry Medvedev said just
minutes after Russia's bid was declared the winner, sparking
celebrations across Moscow which has been shivering in Arctic
temperatures reaching minus 25 degrees Celsius (minus 13 degrees
Fahrenheit) since the start of the week.
"I wasn't sure how it was going to work out, but I thought
of it like a soccer match and waited for the final result," said
Alexei Selivanovich, 26, a web designer who had a tricolour
Russian flag tied around his beer glass at a sports bar.
Some motorists drove the streets with Russian flags rippling
from the windows in the frigid air.
Economists said that hosting the bid could spark a major
construction boom for Russia's $1.2 trillion economy and could
help polish Russia's investment image, which has been tarnished
by concerns over corruption and poor property rights.
Russia has a massive building project to prepare for the
World Cup and has put forward proposals for 16 stadiums in 13
host cities, with only three current stadiums being renovated
and 13 to be built from scratch.
The construction project is budgeted at $3.82 billion - the
largest figure among the four European bidders, though if the
experience of preparing for the 2014 Winter Olympics is anything
to go by, that figure could jump sharply.
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