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Monday, January 24, 2011

“Take this Cup away from me..?”

I’ve heard many Russian colleagues and friends speak a lot, and with excitement, about the 2018 FIFA World Cup ever since the awarding ceremony in Zurich last December sent Russia into euphoria. Some others I’ve heard were less sanguine. I also took thought about the developments the other day, and in speculating on them I reflected on issues, which are pretty far away from soccer—and still are intimately related to the prospective Cup.

First of all, let me say congratulations to Russia on winning the opportunity to host the World Cup in 2018! This marks another success for Russia in a global competition to highlight its newfound strengths and develop its potential in the 21st century.

There appears to be a lot of such successes lately, with Skolkovo, with the Sochi Olympics; new bridges in the Far East, large-scale techno-parks, special economic zones… and now this. And a lot of these successes are indeed very important infrastructure work. The question is how to prioritize developing such projects in the country; what are the main requirements and needs?

On the one hand, it’s very important for Russia to show itself off as a leader in the global economy. On the other hand, there’s a lot of domestic problems, pretty serious ones, that need to be fixed, and this involves infrastructure. This involves water purification, hospitals, roads, etc. It’s a matter of what the strategy of the leadership of the country is in prioritizing which project to accept and which to reject.

I’m not sure which of these projects are really more valuable. They are all infrastructure; they are all going to create jobs and opportunities for people to build things, and in Russia we all know what that means. So, it’s kind of hard to pick and choose, but I can say that in picking the priorities my suggestion would be to focus on what’s going to improve the efficiency of the economy and the quality of people’s lives.

I think the Olympics are very important because the event crosses very many boundaries; it is sports for all ages. The World Cup is a particularly political topic, and certain age groups are really focused on this sport and support it; it is a particularly ‘hot potato’ right now. And if Russia won this opportunity, it’s probably very hard politically for the power in Moscow to turn this opportunity down.

But to what degree will Russia pick and choose going forward?

Clearly, the country needs massive investments in water purification and other infrastructure projects. I think this is essential. I believe this country needs to develop the mechanism on how to award contracts. I’ve seen editorials of leading academicians from the New Economic School, the Higher School of Economics and others, which clearly point out the importance of Russia developing its tender process.

In any of these projects the first priority is to look at what this country really needs; the second is to really spend the money efficiently. In doing this, there should be a transparent process to evaluate different competitive proposals. This is where Russia really can improve itself and show itself off internationally by having fair open tenders that would allow participants from all over the world to take part in building roads, stadiums, hospitals, in supplying equipment for hospitals, etc. Domestic Russian companies need to be given an equal fair chance with international companies as well.

In such a case that the Russian elite decides to modernize their tender process, not only will they be helping to improve the infrastructure but they’ll be using the people’s tax money in a most efficient way.


  1. If you think Russia's biggest problem is a shortage of soccer stadiums, and you are willing to see an increase in public corruption to fix that problem, then hurrah! for the 2018 World Cup.

    If you think that public corruption is Russia's #1 problem, and a huge prestige infrastructure project on a short schedule will aggravate that problem, you might think that Russia would have been better off losing.

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