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50 days to the World Cup: how is Russia 2018 shaping up?

General view outside the stadium after the FIFA Confederations Cup Russia 2017 Final between Chile and Germany at Saint Petersburg Stadium on July 2, 2017 in Saint Petersburg, Russia. (Photo by Alexander Hassenstein/Bongarts/Getty Images)
by Keir Radnedge, AIPS Football Commission Chairman

London, April 22, 2018 - Jerome Valcke, during his nine years as FIFA secretary-general before a high-speed descent to dismissal, suspension and criminal suspicion, earned infamy for two remarks.

One was the suggestion, on the rough road to the 2014 World Cup, that the Brazilian hosts needed "a kick up the backside" in expediting preparations. The other, almost on top of the corruption-scarred finals, was that he was so looking forward to Russia 2018 because "less democracy is sometimes better for organising a World Cup." Dictatorships could get things done.

The Frenchman, at least in his narrow World Cup field of vision, has been vindicated.

South Africa, in 2010, worked only because FIFA threw money and expertise at the operation. The South Africans' incompetence was revealed in dozens of details, not least the fade-away park-and-ride scheme for fans going to Soccer City. No-one thought to pay the bus drivers so they walked away, leaving fans stranded.

Similarly, Brazil worked in 2014 thanks only to the dedication of a comparatively small number of local officials determined to see the job through.

Such a scenario has not been repeated in Russia. Whatever the storm of geopolitical barbs aimed at President Vladimir Putin and his vast state, no-one ever questioned the Russians' organisational competence. Thus it has proved, as the Confederations Cup suggested last year.

Not that everything has been perfect. The Krestovsky Island Stadium in St Petersburg had been under construction ever since before the 2009 Confederations Cup in South Africa, never mind the World Cup there.

Delays caused by financial and construction company issues blunders meant a race against time. The employment of gangs of North Korean workers brought questions about their working and living conditions from Human Rights Watch. They were duly sent home after FIFA complained, but by then the bulk of the work was done.

The completion of several other stadia has been delayed until later this spring than projected by organising ceo Alexey Sorokin. The redeveloped venue in Yekaterinburg, the only World Cup venue in Asian (eastern) Russia, staged the first of its three official tests only at the start of April.

Delays in several other cities followed changes in construction companies, in several cases after criminal inquiries. For example, a Moscow judge has laid charges against billionaire Ziyavudin Magomedov, co-owner of Summa, a company involved in construction of the Kaliningrad World Cup stadium.

Confederations Cup lessons were noted by Sorokin & Co. One concerned advance information about the free trains for fans (and media) and another the need for many more distribution centres for Fan-ID documents.

The politics is another story.

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