Day 2 – Thursday 11 April 2013
10.00 – 10.45 A Unique Russian Perspective
– Alexander Djordjadze, Deputy CEO of Russia 2018 LOC
– Moderator: Jeff Powell, Chief Sports Features Writer, Daily Mail
Jeff Powell opened the first presentation of Day 2 by saying that the World Cup in Brazil was only a year away, but that this session looked further ahead to Russia in 2018. He then introduced Alexander Djordjadze, Deputy CEO of Russia 2018 LOC. The Russian explained that the CEO, Alexey Sorokin had been due to carry out this engagement, but had been called to Moscow to provide the latest update on the progress of the World Cup Project to President Putin.
Powell added that this was the first time that the details of the 2018 World Cup were being made public outside of Russia and he asked how the announcement of the successful bid was received in the country. Alexander Djordjadze replied that few people actually believed they would win the vote, but that it now had the public support. In the latest opinion polls, 65% people now knew about the World Cup in 2018 with 89% supporting and seeing the benefits, which included better infrastructure, improvement in sport, as well as social and emotional boosts. Alexander Djordjadze said that there were critics of the successful bid, but this was merely political rhetoric. He reinforced the point that ‘Social Change’ is achieved through ‘big’ projects. Djordjadze continued that President Putin was on the LOC and that it showed the bid had the support of the government.
Djordjadze was asked if there was pride in Russia that they would be the first Eastern European country to host a World Cup. He answered that yes there was enormous pride at the opportunity, but right now the focus and attention in Russia was on the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. Once this is over and the 2014 World Cup in Brazil is completed, then the feeling about 2018 will grow. He added that Sochi would be one of the four venues (Moscow, Kazan and St Petersburg being the others) used for the 2017 Confederations Cup. Djordjadze continued that he accepted that the development of the necessary infrastructure would be a challenge and that their Bid was on the basis they were not in a position to host the tournament tomorrow. The plan is to have 11 host cities with 12 stadiums. Alexander Djordjadze said that 5 stadiums were currently being built and that 7 more had the funds allocated to start the design phase. He acknowledged though that the FIFA requirements for stadiums were different to that for ‘standard’ builds and therefore the timescales were challenging.
Powell asked if the rumours that President Putin and his friends were putting money into the World Cup were true. Alexander Djordjadze said that this was a myth, as the finance was all Federal money.
Next Jeff Powell wanted to know if the ‘old’ Russia of his travels had changed. Djordjadze said that the last 20 years had seen enormous change in the country and the awarding of the World Cup in 2018 was a historic event. He continued that in 1991 a ‘new’ democratic Russia had emerged, but despite this much of the outside world was still critical about Russia and believed it to be a country of different cliques, oligarchs and tycoons; this he maintained was all myth. Djordjadze said that the World Cup would continue the process of further opening-up the country and change the perception of the world. A video was then shown which sought to promote the idea of ‘One Story of Russia’, a country of mixed cultures, history and emotion.
Djordjadze was then asked about the travel arrangements and how the Groups would be organised given the vastness of Russia. He explained that to play a World Cup across the country just wasn’t feasible and therefore the tournament was focused in the West where 80% of the population was. He added that it was hoped to keep the flight time to 2 hours or less for players and fans. Djordjadze continued that President Putin had guaranteed that all ticket holders would not require a Visa to enter the country and would also be entitled to free rail and coach transport for games between cities. The idea of allowing fans into the country without a Visa had worked wonderfully well during the 2008 Champions League Final when 30,000 supporters came into Moscow. However, Djordjadze said that by then he hoped that Visa’s would be abolished altogether. Finally he added that in order to avoid the problems of Ukraine during the 2012 European Championship Finals, hotel room prices would be frozen. In light of events in Poland and Ukraine last year, Jeff Powell asked if the World Cup would be a ‘rip-off’ for fans. Djordjadze said that Moscow is expensive, but is only like any other major city in the world in terms of cost and as an event the 2018 World Cup would be like any other financially.
The next question related as to how the Organising Committee would handle the threat of hooliganism, crowd violence or racism. Alexander Djordjadze said that it was a concern for the authorities and the public. He added that there would be legislation passed about crowd behaviour called ‘Fans Law’ in terms of fines and bans. Djordjadze added that an Educational Programme was also being put in place to ensure that host cities and stadiums were family friendly. Powell asked if the perception of Eastern Europe and the associated crowd problems could be turned round in the next 5 years. Djordjadze replied that the general attitude was against violence and crowd problems. He added that the laws would apply to both Russian Nationals and Foreign Fans. However, Djordjadze said that the fan population is different at World Cups and would present potentially fewer problems.
Jeff Powell said that he had fond memories of the 2006 World Cup in Germany and the Berlin Mile where fans of all countries gathered and enjoyed the atmosphere. Alexander Djordjadze said that in 2018 they wanted to create a true festival and for instance use the Squares in Moscow and St Petersburg where the fans would be “treated like Kings”
Powell went on to ask if the World Cup would be good for Russia in ‘opening-up’ the country. Djordjadze countered that Russia was not a ‘closed-country’ and that many young people now spoke English and added it was a psychological position that had to be broken.
Attention then turned to the numbers of visitors that were likely to attend the World Cup. Alexander Djordjadze stated that South Africa had attracted 400,000 visitors, but that because of the easy access from Europe and Asia to Russia that a figure nearer 1million was envisaged. He said that there would be 3.2milion tickets available.
Jeff Powell asked what business opportunities would be created for companies in delivering the World Cup. Djordjadze said that Russia had already engaged overseas companies and they had so far been involved in stadium design and associated technologies. Going forward there would be a need for Project Management in Planning and Sustainability, skills and expertise mostly held in the West. Alexander Djordjadze added that he had a meeting with the 2012 London Olympic Organisers to learn about their experiences and that soon there would be tenders going out in relation to telecoms, transport and infrastructure.
Djordjadze briefly explained that the role of the LOC (Local Organising Committee) was to oversee the World Cup as an event, with the Host Cities having their own organising committee for the games in their area.
Alexander Djordjadze was asked about the scale of budget for the 2018 World Cup. He responded that the Government was currently working on the Infrastructure Programme and carrying out an audit. This would lead to a budget decision in June.
Powell asked how important the success of the Russian National Team was during the 2018 Finals. Alexander Djordjadze replied that it was hugely important as at Italia ’90, once Italy went out the mood around the event died. He added that of course the Russian fans dreamt about success as hosts and as winners of the competition. Djordjadze added that the Russian U21s were a promising team and had qualified for the European Championships in Israel this summer.
Jeff Powell then enquired as to whether there was a unified patriotic pride in the country as in previous years Russia was a country that was isolated and not understood by the outside world. Djordjadze said that Russia was a historically important country and was very much a football nation which had played its first International match in 1912 against Finland.
The final question to Alexander Djordjadze was with regard to how the face of Russia will change as a result of the World Cup. He replied that it was all about the legacy, which in recent years had becoming the defining point for ‘Hosting’ any World Cup. Djordjadze added that the usual improvements in infrastructure, facilities and football would all be attained, but it was in the intangible that Russia hoped to make a breakthrough. He said that the country was very much seen as an enigma, but hoped that the visitors to the country and the watching world will keep the feeling in their hearts after a successful and friendly tournament and that in time would change how Russia is viewed.
Jeff Powell closed the session by saying how grateful Soccerex was for the presentation and discussion with Alexander Djordjadze.