Thursday, December 9, 2010
Beckham won't be bending it in England in 2018
Last week, FIFA announced that Russia had won the hotly contested 2018 World Cup hosting bid. The news was greeted with an outpouring of excitement from my teenage students, and conversely, with a fair amount of trepidation and wariness from my adult students. Soccer (or football...is it a little too "American" to insist on calling something by a different name than that which the rest of the world uses? Kinda like still using the imperial system when everyone else uses metric) is really popular in Russia, I've noticed.
Personally, I'm a little meh about soccer. My Canadian upbringing pretty much guaranteed that I'd be partial to hockey (although, interestingly, my favourite team is Detroit, and during the Olympics and IIHF, I always cheer for Team Russia) and I'm also semi-interested in baseball (who doesn't love going to a Jays game at the Skydome?) and even American football and basketball, but for some reason I've never caught onto soccer. I won the Most Sportsmanlike Award playing soccer one year as a teen, but I think that was only due to the fact that I let everyone else have the ball. Not for altruistic reasons, I have to confess. I just basically had no talent, and I realized this early on, so I was content with playing midfield and trotting back and forth on the field while my teammates got the glory. As long as my dad still took me to Tim Hortons for a doughnut after, I was a happy camper...
So I'm not really invested in this whole World Cup hosting thing. As a Russophile, my first reaction upon hearing the news was to be pumped, like "Yeah! My country beat England's bid!" (Even though, sadly, the blood that runs through my veins is most likely more English than Russian...I'll keep insisting to my dying day though that there's some obscure Russian Starr(ov?) way back in our family tree). But then my pragmatism kicked in and overwhelmed my misguided patriotism. Just how smart a move is this on FIFA's part?
I'm not an expert on Russia, and I'm most definitely not an expert on the Russian economy. But even I know that hosting the 2014 Olympics in Sochi is already going to be a huge drain on the Russian economy (its been estimated that it may cost up to $33 billion, with the World Cup being an additional $10 billion!). Quite simply, Russia just does not have the infrastructure for such an undertaking. It doesn't have the facilities, the airports, all the little things that have to go into successfully hosting a world event like the Olympics. Now add in the World Cup a mere four years after Sochi, and you can see how this is going to have an enormous affect on the country's economy, and, vis-a-vis, on the average Russian taxpayer.
What are the good points, if any? Well, an increase in national pride, definitely. And I think its really cool that FIFA chose two nontraditional places to host the Cup - after Russia in 2018, Qatar will be the next host in 2022. Both Eastern Europe and the Middle East have never hosted the World Cup, so this will be great for fans in these regions. And yeah, it might spark a rise in tourism. Maybe. One of my private students, Eleysa, is a student in tourism at the university, and she was telling me the other day how difficult it is to get tourists into Russia. "Nobody wants to come here," she said bluntly. "They think Russia is scary and cold." Harsh, but there is some truth to that. Russia isn't exactly number one on people's bucket lists of places to see, unfortunately. I absolutely love this country, and in the three months I've been living here, I have been lucky enough to see some of the most beautiful sights in the world. From the awe-inspiring architecture of St. Basil's at the Kremlin to the simple beauty of snow-laden birch trees in the Mytishi park, Russia has captured my heart. Friendly, warm people (for the most part, but that's the same everywhere in the world) and delicious food just add to the stunning history and scenary. I want to convince everyone I know to come here, just once, because I'm confident that one trip here would be enough to make anyone fall in love with Russia. However, will the World Cup really attract that many tourists here? Its hard to say. The visa issue is something else to consider. I was lucky that my employer, Language Link, took care of the work visa for me, but it was still a hassle for me to take a day off work in the summer, drive to Toronto, and apply for a visa at the Russian Consulate, which is only open for a few hours in the morning. This process could definitely deter fans, even the most hard-core.
Either way, sinking big money into one-time events like the Olympics and the World Cup, where there's few long-term benefits besides the creation of a bunch of new stadiums and facilities, doesn't seem very wise. In a country that is rocked by corruption scandals, weak infrastructure, a generally negative image overseas, and issues over press freedom, this could be an opportunity for Russia to clean itself up. I might not be a soccer (or football, or whatever have you!) fan, but I will definitely be keeping an eye on World Cup developments over the next eight years, and who knows? Maybe I will even come back here, to my adopted home, to see a game or two in 2018. Maybe. If David Beckham's still playing. He's the only soccer player I know.
Posted by KStarr at 12:39 PM