Stadium Sticker Shock Costs Explode for Russia's 2018 World Cup

Moscow wants to make Russia the "center of the sporting world," but the price tag will be steep. Four years before the 2018 World Cup, costs are exploding in the next host country, with the two most important stadiums each costing more than a billion euros.

Russia 2018/ 2022 FIFA World Cup Bid Committee

By in Moscow

When Italian referee Nicola Rizzoli blew the whistle to start the World Cup final on Sunday night in Rio, a man with only marginal interest in football could be seen sitting in the VIP section: Vladimir Putin. The Russian president makes no secret of the fact that he's not a huge fan. He'd rather watch an ice hockey match.

Still, he attended the final in Brazil because his country will be hosting the World Cup the next time it is held, in 2018. It will become the third world-class sporting event to be hosted by Russia this decade, following the heels of the 2013 track and field IAAF World Championships and the Winter Olympics, held earlier this year in Sochi. In addition, Russia's first-ever Formula One race is scheduled to take place in Sochi in October. Russian Sport Minister Vitali Mutko has said he wants to make Russia the "center of the sporting world."

Hosting major sporting events is a way of demonstrating the country's strength, but it also offers Russia an opportunity to push forward with the urgent need to modernize its infrastructure. Seven out of 12 arenas planned for use in the World Cup must be newly built and two have to be thoroughly renovated. The price tag will not be small. After spending some €50 billion ($68 billion) on the expensive Winter Olympics in Sochi, Mutko's ministry estimates that Russia will spend €30 billion to host the 2018 World Cup. That's more than double what Brazil spent for this year's tournament.

And that's assuming things don't get even costlier. But bad planning and presumed corruption have begun driving costs upward. Indeed, researchers at the University of Zurich have concluded that the Russian World Cup will be the most expensive ever, on a price-per-seat basis.

Here is how Russia compares:

  • South Korea/Japan 2002: an estimated $6,000 per seat

  • Germany 2006: $3,200

  • South Africa 2010: $5,000

  • Brazil 2014: $6,500

  • Russia 2018: $11,500

The World Cup stadium in St. Petersburg is expected to be the most expensive, with a cost of $16,500 for each of the around 70,000 spectator seats. The stadium has been under construction since 2007 and was originally scheduled for opening at the end of 2008, but it has been beset by delays. And costs have skyrocketed: It was supposed to cost $415 million, but current reports indicate the price tag has risen to as high as $1.2 billion. The opening is now planned for 2016. To be on the safe side, the city of St. Petersburg recently even considered constructing a back-up stadium with 25,000 seats just in case -- a site that could then be used by the second team of Russian Premier League club Zenit St. Petersburg after the tournament.

Moscow Trims Down Refurbishing Plans

The problems with the stadium in St. Petersburg are not an isolated case. In December, a report in the daily Vedomosti startled the public with news that renovations of the venerable Moscow Olympic Stadium, originally estimated at $2.5 billion, could get even more expensive. The plans have since been slimmed down, with costs now only expected to be about $650 million.

Another problem is that many stadiums will be of little use after the tournament. The smallest World Cup arena is expected to hold 42,000 spectators, while the average attendance at Russian Premier League matches being a paltry 12,000. Besides, four cities hosting World Cup matches aren't even home to Premier League teams. "With the economic outlook for Russia darkening, the World Cup 2018 is likely to become deadweight to Russian economic development through the misallocation of scarce resources," Martin Müller, a professor at the University of Zurich wrote in his introduction to the June report.

Sports Minister Mutko recently sought to put a stop to the cost overruns, saying that no stadium should cost more than 15 billion rubles, or approximately $440 million. Influential construction company owners are already rebelling against his demand, in particular Gennady Timchenko, the owner of Russian engineering and construction company Stroytransgaz.

Stoytransgaz is demanding 35 percent more money for the stadiums than Mutko is offering. It remains uncertain whether the sports minister can prevail. Timchenko first rose the ranks to join Russia's oligarchs during the Putin era and members of the political opposition in Moscow don't believe that to be a coincidence. Timchenko has been a good acquaintance of Putin's for years.

When FIFA awarded the World Cup to Russia in 2010, a leading advisor to then President Dmitri Medvedev tweeted, "Dawaite bes otkatow," in Russian. Loosely translated, it means, "let's try to avoid corruption this time." There's much to suggest this was little more than a pious hope.

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awareadams 07/16/2014
1. Putin: drunk with gas revenue
Putin acts like the proverbial "drunken sailor", and seems to assume he will always be rich. He also seems to assume labour in Russia is cheap and has Stalin as a mentor. Of course, Stalin did his building with slave and imprisoned labour. Putin's spending, of course, also goes into the pockets of his political cronies who have the contracts for World Cup construction. How long with Putin's chimerical world last?
lol1232 07/17/2014
2. sanctions and politics
Don't you think it ironic that we have all this push for international is and international that, yet when it comes to dominance in world power it boils downs to banks? I read today that the USA (which indirectly means UNITED nations) intends to "target key institutions including GazpromBANK and Rosneft oil co. as well as other energy and defense companies. This nothing but escalated financial sanctions. Sooooo, do banks run the world now (rhetorical answer ...they always have...and who is the richest family in the world???). My main point is this. This international monopoly (good use of term monopoly game) hands out sanctions to countries that they need to advance their power but don't have it yet. What exactly do you think will happen once ALL NATIONS (Germany has heard this rebel cry of a one world government before..long before Hitler came to power) come under this umbrella of Unified sanctions??? The hope that Russia will go bust from hosting the Olympics and now the world cup is an easy coup for the bankers......
smbaer424 07/17/2014
3. Center of the sporting world - what a joke
who in their right mind would want to step foot in russia while sputin is the dictator? Get rid of him and re-build a civil society first, worry about being the center, of something other than evil, in due time
Stelvio 07/17/2014
is an unfortunate word, given Russia's alleged role in the shooting down of MH 317, 295 dead. Will the world finally wake up and realise how dangerous Putin is?
sururu.formado 07/18/2014
5. lol1232 post
congrats for the wisdom, awareness, and courage of your post. I observe the same reality about all the points you addressed. May the Lord have mercy of their faithfuls. because is have been hard to save this world of people passively dumbed down by mainstream media from going lower and worse.
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