Corruption is widespread in Russia and the country is not a democracy based on the rule of law, but that doesn't mean the country is a bad choice for the World Cup, says Deutsche Welle's Ingo Mannteufel.
The 2018 FIFA World Cup is set to be held in Russia. Being chosen as the host country is the crowning achievement of a consistent strategy coming out of Moscow.
By campaigning for major international sporting events, the Russian leadership - particularly the powerful Prime Minister Vladimir Putin - is hoping to improve the image of Russia abroad. In 2007 Putin snagged the 2014 Winter Olympics for Sochi on the Russian Black Sea coast. And just a few weeks ago he got the go-ahead for a Russian Formula 1 Grand Prix event - also in Sochi - beginning in 2014. And now it's been chosen to host the World Cup.
Ingo Mannteufel, head of DW's Russian service
That Prime Minister Putin will spare no money or trouble to better his country's image in the world must be seen critically. The Russia of today that he has created is far from a democratic state. And there's a real danger that much of money provided for these megaprojects could disappear into corrupt companies and government bodies.
And of course 13 of the 16 planned match stadiums will have to be built new or completely remodeled. It will also be a tremendous effort to improve the tourism infrastructure to accommodate the thousands of fans and manage the logistics of the long distances between the venues. The question of how much the environment will be taken into account also remains open. The experience with the construction work in Sochi would suggest we shouldn't get our hopes up.
Nevertheless the decision by FIFA to hold the World Cup, for the first time in its history, in Eastern Europe is a good one. The World Cup is a massive celebration of sports fans in a "global village." It's not just the opportunity for cultural exchange. Rather it actually forces the host nation and its international guests to get to know each other. Hundreds of thousands of fans will stream into Eastern Europe and especially Russia in the next decade to discover this part of Europe for themselves. In 2012 the European Championship is to be held in Poland and Ukraine; in 2014 the Winter Olympics are in Sochi and now in 2018 the World Cup will be held in 13 Russian cities that most people in Europe have never heard of. Who in western Europe has heard of Saransk or Yaroslavl?
This will put a lot of pressure on the Russian government to really modernize and Europeanize Russia, so that visitors take a positive impression of the country back with them when they return home.
Being chosen as the host for the World Cup is good for a country's image at least until the first whistle blows and the tournament begins. Then the host nation will have to deliver on its promises if it doesn't want to lose its credibility in the eyes of thousands of guests and the rest of the world. Russia will have to change in the next several years, perhaps more than Putin and the other ruling elite would like. And that's a good thing. Congratulations, Russia!
Ingo Mannteufel is head of Deutsche Welle's Russian service.
Author: Ingo Mannteufel / hf
Editor: Chuck Penfold