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Successes and Failures of the 2018 World Cup

The Economist newspaper has asked you to write a report on the 2018 World Cup evaluating the success (and failure) of the World Cup in host cities and regions. In your report refer to relevant ideas and materials from this course

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1) The hosting of mammoth sporting occasions had only ever been the honour for highly developed nations, however, the 2008 Beijing Olympic games set a new standard for this and enabled the transition away from this trend. This has therefore resulted in more developing countries successfully acquiring opportunities to host such events with China, South Africa, Brazil and Russia all granted this privilege. The 2018 FIFA World Cup held in Russia over the summer is no different. Given the magnitude of such an event, the popularity it has fashioned and the global following it possesses the World Cup delivered more in economic and political value to Russia than ever before. For Russia, the event not only provided an opportunity to display its immense passion for sport and its prowess, but more than that, it offered opportunities to showcase its geopolitical and economic supremacy. Therefore, particular focus will be displayed on the two concepts of nationalism and geopolitics. The report will evaluate the successes and failures in the execution of the tournament for the host cities and regions, to understand whether the legacy left by such events is a favourable one.


The first concept of ‘geopolitics’ can be defined generically through the studying of the geographical factors throughout world politics, and the inter-state affairs that derive from this. Most commonly the term is used to depict regional strategic relations which holds a greater emphasis on topographical factors such as accessibility, geographical position and resources. The link between the 2018 FIFA World Cup and geopolitics is vast and Russia’s opportunity to showcase its political and economic supremacy to the world represented a platform from which geopolitics of different countries was able to be played out. Russia has commonly used the leverage of vast sporting events to boost its geopolitical image. Although the geopolitical image has always successfully been maintained with desired results, successful focus on domestic elements has always eluded Russia damaging their reputation. Furthermore, time has exposed that any major event hosted by Russia, tended to have been eclipsed by persistent controversy with many of their geopolitical relations hindered. These commonly have included neglecting of citizen rights, military interferences and poor relations to the global West. This year’s event was no exception with Russia’s seizure of Crimea and the shocking incident involving the MH370 Malaysia Airlines flight over Ukraine. Regardless, the use of propaganda is used to internationally conceal these incidents and Russia continues to boast its  self-acclaimed greatness.

Nationalism is typically defined through the political, social and financial principles which result from the promoting of collective interests within a particular nation. The concept of nationalism through football has proved to be a strong and reliable tool for the majority of host countries, effectively allowing the development of collective identity centred on a few common principles. Although the hosting the tournament initiates a sense of collectiveness and national identity, nationalism has a far greater outreach in Russia than initially meets the eye. The vast investments in shared infrastructures and construction projects provide a rare opportunity for the host nations to exhibit an image of unparalleled growth, development opportunities and enhanced sporting tourism which can be used as a platform for uniting the nation. However, amongst all this opportunity emerges some scepticism surrounding theories of nationalism, and apprehension that the tournament does more to disadvantage than it does benefit. As a result, it can be hugely challenging to ensure nationalism is always maintained. Inevitably events of nationwide unrest and protest are common, as evidenced most recently by the ‘Pussy riot’ protestors in the Final.


Perhaps one the most successful elements of the World Cup appear to have derived from the creation of opportunities and legacies. For instance, an additional 220,000 jobs have been maintained since the hosting of the World Cup, therefore helping to boost personal incomes by US$ 7 an hour. Furthermore, the Russian government have revealed 210,000 Russians have obtained essential transferable skills in the preparation and management of such an event. Resultantly 79,000 people acquired a suitable level competency within the sector of construction, 36,000 prospered within hospitality sectors, 23,000 within transportation and security sectors, 18,000 in utility and social services, and 52,000 were offered volunteer training.  These all evidence successful meeting of objectives set out in the official report, and have all unquestionably benefited host cities and regions.

With the logistics of the world cup being so well managed with very few threats towards its successful execution, the global attention Russia received for its hospitality will have undoubtedly generated satisfaction and happiness among the population. This will have further been reinforced by a sense of national identity and pride (Atkinson, Mourato, Szymanski). The levels of national identity and pride which can be attributed to Russia is however different to those of past competitions and therefore isn’t directly comparable. However, Kavetsos (2011) has published reports indicating Euro 2000 generated immense national pride throughout Netherlands and Belgium. Regardless of this, quantification of this is almost impossible as every competition bears a very different context.

Another major contribution the world cup delivered was the promotion of sports which has been evidenced to increase uptake and participation from younger generations. It is inevitable that any competition of World Cup’s magnitude inspires people, and with this stems benefits to social wellbeing and health of people living within host cities. Although it is unclear whether it is essential to host such events to actually see a significant boost, the mass appeal of the world cup was undoubtedly successful in delivering long awaited promoting of sports participation in Russia.

A first point of interest when outlining the failures of the World Cup in Russia is when  evaluating the suitability of the infrastructures developed within host cities. Because a number of cities were highly expected for selection such as St. Petersburg and Moscow, the highest populated cities in Russia, Sochi, the previous 2014 Winter Olympics host and Kazan who hosted the Summer Universiade it would be highly expected that proposed infrastructures were planned suitably and would benefit the hosts that received them. However, seeing as the selection of some cities was particularly unexpected, much of this development appeared particularly inappropriate. Yekaterinburg for instance who held the heading of being the furthest city east in the competition had to develop most heavily on its infrastructure and alarmingly had to implement temporary stands in order to attain the necessary requirements for stadium capacities. Not to mention that this capacity had already been adjusted to 35,000 from the initial 40,000 regulation.

The hosts of Nizhny Novgorod, Volgograd and Kaliningrad were also odd additions due to the poor legacy planning as their football teams play in the second tier of Russian football and therefore have struggled to attract respectable crowds to fill the 40,000 seater stadiums after the competition had seized. This is despite stadiums being further reduced to a capacity of 25,000. Taking into consideration spending for sport related infrastructure accounted for 38% of the total expenditure, and many scholars see this as being extremely averse to Russia. Further to this Kaliningrad’s location was hugely counterproductive as it has less than one million inhabitants and borders Lithuania and Poland, meaning access for Russian citizens was very awkward. Most startlingly, these cities were chosen over the city of Krasnodar and a proposals of a second stadium in Moscow, both of which already had the capabilities of hosting the tournament without any apprehension. This clearly translates to a negative element of the World Cup as the infrastructure has proved particularly unsuitable in the aftermath of the competition. Not to mention the host of Kaliningrad holds major geopolitical interest serving as a Russian military base stocked with an arsenal of nuclear-capable missiles. This means such infrastructure bears no tangible value and instead acts only as a declaration of its geopolitical power.

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Moreover, the termination of investment towards vitally important public schemes saw funding transferred to developing for the immediate needs of the competition. This therefore deflected the impact received by major cities and their inhabitants. The 271 projects constructed, estimated to have cost$20 billion, comprised mainly of airport extensions, direct transport to stadiums, preparation sites and living accommodations (Government of the Russian Federation, 2013). Although this has proved a success with managing the increasing volume of tourism even after the event, the effects will have a very small outreach to many Russian’s. Among the projects which were abandoned were fundamental metro developments, resurfacing of public roads, major hospital renovations, infrastructure enhancements from the local level, but perhaps more concerning was the postponement of the much needed high-speed rail link running from Moscow to Kazan. Although the implementation of the Moscow Central Ring has been beneficial, this particular project would have projected far greater benefits for Russian’s, as instead much of the infrastructure was developed with the world cup as its only main focal point.

In addition, it is hugely important place emphasis on the idea that some cities might have benefitted significantly more than others due to their favourable political preferences. The placement of the selected host cities holds particularly high value in understanding the centre periphery politics in Russia. Based off evidence, the seven cities that were selected, all of whom required new stadiums were selected based of their political preferences using a penalty and incentive scheme which set out to target local officials. Most significantly, loyalty from non-ethnically Russian regions was rewarded highly, with less support delivered to officials who inhabited densely populated ethnically Russian regions. This can be evidenced further with the 2001 elections with Yaroslavl and Moscow Oblast who had low support for United Russia with 32.5% and 29% and were subsequently punished with removal in the latter stages of selection. This outlines clearly that the government were highly instrumental punishing densely populated ethnic regions who showed low support for United Russia. This outlines that some Russian cities were limited in their support for the tournament, forming due to the lack of financial support they received.


A major point of interest relating to the concept of nationalism was certainly achieved through the creation of opportunities and legacies for Russia. The level of employment maintained since the World Cup was certainly a boost to nationalism, as it resulted in improvement of salaries per capita. Furthermore, the competition was seen to engage with Russian citizens as thousands benefited from learning adaptable skills and being part of such a spirited occasion. The concept of geopolitics can also be explored here as Russia’s logistics and planning for the event was met with very few issues and was presented with surprisingly positive dialogue in the world media. As a result, the global recognition generated will have fuelled Russia’s geopolitical influence as its hospitality will have undoubtedly generated memories to remember.

Furthermore, another major finding relating to geopolitics was how the hosting of a prestigious event was used as a device used to enhance the legitimacy of the government, and showcase its supremacy to the world stage. As a result of these strategies, a greater focus has been placed on the increasing commercialization and commoditization of events, and the value which can be attained financially. Although this is significant to Russia, the chief influence appears to hold emphasis on more than just monetary gain, as this tends underemphasise the geopolitical and ideological agendas embedded within. As a result, the prime incentives for Russia appeared to be the opportunity of encouraging nationalism which focussed on driving forward political ideologies or establish some convergence of contrasting ideologies within the country. Furthermore, geopolitics can be further evidenced through Russia’s realised expectations of strong developmental opportunities after the competition which they have utilised in an attempt to keep up in an increasingly competitive, globalized, and interdependent world.

Another key finding from this report aligns with the concept of geopolitics. Russia strongly reinforced claims that the investment into the 2018 FIFA World Cup was hugely influential in catalysing development on a nation-wide basis, to accomplish higher levels of development and economic growth. Furthermore, the guarantee outlined to Russian’s that infrastructure upgrades were made within reason for the purpose of ‘strong and sustainable’ development was something constantly reiterated. However, these justifications, typically employed by governing bodies of sport to rationalise the substantial financial and social expenses, are particularly hard to support in Russia’s case. Based on previous claims that major sporting events were solely responsible for enhancing development by a decade (Preuss, 2004, p. 232) and that host cities benefit significantly from state of the art engineering delivered through urban regeneration and transport proposals” (Kassens-Noor, 2013, p. 393). However, Russia has been commonly notorious for a severe overpromising and poor delivery of implementing these benefits, whilst also underestimating their expenses. It would be wrong to declare the impact of these investments for the World Cup was unnecessary, however, it would also be wrong to maintain they were all beneficial. As a result, is can be assumed that the tournament formed an important part of Vladimir Putin’s rhetoric ahead of the re-election in March and his desire to propel Russia’s image to the rest of the world stage.

Another major finding which has significant ties with the concepts of nationalism and geopolitics can be seen through how the government used the event to outline and push political agendas. This is exampled through the reward programmes and selective investment by acknowledging loyalty. These programmes were inwardly directed and aimed to boost support for the United Russian government, in turn aiming to successfully promote a collective sense of identity and stimulate nationalism.


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