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Russia insists on keeping its World Cup party

Juri Rescheto / gruMay 29, 2015

Although most Russians are not upset about the FIFA arrests in Zurich, leaders in Moscow suspect a US conspiracy. Development of World Cup sites in Russia is moving full steam ahead.

Russland Fußball-WM 2018 Baustelle der Luschniki-Arena
Image: AO Luschniki

The biggest construction site in Russia is huge. The legendary, nearly 60-year-old Luzhniki Arena in southwestern Moscow is currently undergoing refurbishment. The stadium's interior will become a state-of-the-art space for 80,000 soccer fans, but the exterior will maintain its original appearance after renovation.

Hammering, digging, painting and pouring cement: work continues on the 221,000-square-meter area - a fact construction director Murat Ahmadiev is very proud of.

"This is where the heart of the World Cup will beat," he told DW, adding that he cannot imagine the project will be terminated because of the FIFA corruption scandal. "Despite the troubles our country has, we are making good progress. Sport should have nothing to do with politics. Sport is sport and not politics"

Russia backs Sepp Blatter

In the Kremlin, far from the noisy construction site, sports still means politics. While the West demands consequences for FIFA President Sepp Blatter, who was re-elected on Friday, with regard to the football organization's current scandal, Russia's president suspects a US conspiracy against Russia and states.

"We know that he [Blatter] has been put under pressure to take the 2018 World Cup away from Russia," President Vladimir Putin said. "This again, is obviously a US attempt to infiltrate other countries with its legal system."

Blatter mit Putin 13.07.2014 in Rio
Putin supported Blatter's re-election bidImage: picture-alliance/RIA Novosti

Russian Sports Minister and FIFA Executive Committee member Vitaly Mutko praised the world soccer governing body. The Russian newspaper "Kommersant" cited his confidence in FIFA as a "good organization." The Russian Football Union fully supports Sepp Blatter and Russia is not under threat of losing the World Cup in three years, the paper reported.

Mutko himself was interrogated in Zurich but not on corruption allegations, as he asserted to the TASS news agency. According to Mutko, the arrests in Zurich were not related to the World Cup in Russia and that the country honestly earned the right to host the World Cup in 2018.

Faithful Russian sponsor

Valery Fedoreev, a legal specialist for sports who heads the Russian office of the international law firm CMS, shared Mutko's view and said FIFA should expect a bill from Russia if the 2018 tournament were to be moved.

"I am sure that it is clear to FIFA if they cancel, they will receive an invoice for astronomical compensation demands, all of which are monetary sums that have already been spent to expand soccer infrastructures," Fedoreev told DW.

Although the five main World Cup sponsors: Adidas, Coca Cola, Hyundai, McDonald's and Anheuser Busch have expressed concern about the investigations and a further cooperation, the Russian energy giant Gazprom remains devoted to the event. Gazprom spokesman Sergei Kupriyanov said FIFA's current problems would have no impact on sponsorship agreements.

Fußball Weltmeisterschaft 2018 Russland Moskau
Russians are looking ahead to a World Cup party in 2018Image: picture-alliance/dpa/MAXIM SHIPENKOV

A football fete

Many Muscovites seem indifferent to the news from Zurich and the comments their government and sport officials make. They only want one thing: a big soccer party in their country.

"I'm sure it could happen, but I really do not think anybody wants to take the World Cup away from us," a student called Sasha and said. "After all, we are a peace-loving country and everyone should see that!"

Svetlana, a pensioner, added, "This organizers' scandal has nothing to do with our country. They can't just cancel our party!"

Almost 2,000 people continue working around the clock on the Luzhniki stadium site and hope their labor is not in vain.