What are the strong points of Russia’s bid? What can convince the FIFA commission that Russia can and should host the World Cup?
Alexei Smertin: Our bid has quite a few strong points. First of all, it is backed by the government. The plan we showed to the FIFA commission has received very substantial support here and will be implemented no matter if we win the bid or not. It is critical for the country and sports. Through this project, we’ll create the infrastructure to promote mass participation in sports, attract more children and young people to football and improve our performance in competitions.
Another factor that boosts our chances is that Russia has never hosted the World Cup before – it is a new country for FIFA. Clearly, FIFA wants to discover new football nations and even continents, and the recent World Cup in Africa confirms this. From this prospective, we have very good chances.
As a member of the bidding committee, you accompanied FIFA inspectors during their visit. What impression do you think they got from what they saw?
Alexei Smertin: It’s hard to tell what they think about it because FIFA rules prohibit inspectors to express their opinion about bidding nations in public. But I can tell you that we accomplished our objective successfully. We showed the inspectors four cities in less than three days. The visit started in St. Petersburg, where Mayor Valentina Matviyenko made a presentation for them. Our next stop was Moscow, where the inspectors met the prime minister. I think everybody knows already that he assured the inspectors that should Russia win the right to host the World Cup, the government will allow visa-free entry to the country for its participants and guests, and all the planned stadiums will be built. Then we visited Kazan, from where we went to Sochi to see the final presentation.
In addition to the stadiums and infrastructure, Russia has remarkable, beautiful cities. We can say with confidence that this country is a repository of the world’s cultural and historical heritage. Will this factor influence the commission’s decision?
Alexei Smertin: Absolutely. We’ve done a great job on the cultural program. The inspectors have visited quite a lot of places but judging by their reaction they were impressed with our cultural sites. We started in St. Petersburg, which is rightly considered one of the most beautiful Russian cities. The inspectors toured its main sites.
We visited the Palace Square, which is planned to house the Fan Fest zone, where fans will be able to watch games on large screens. The inspectors also visited the Winter Palace where they attended a presentation and visited the Yusupovs Palace. These architectural masterpieces certainly impressed them.
The closer the day when FIFA will announce the winner, the more strained the atmosphere around this, including in the media. Some speak about a media war between Russia and the UK. Have you noticed this?
Alexei Smertin: I can’t say I have. Our team always speaks respectfully about the bidding committees of the UK and other countries. We wouldn’t even call them rivals, they are bidding nations, and each of them deserves to host the World Cup.
Whether we win the bid or not, the government promised to build every stadium it has planned. Will this be done to the letter or is it possible that they will say they have no money to fund the projects if we don’t win? Are the government and the sports federations truly committed to this project?
Alexei Smertin: I’m confident that our leadership will meet their commitments and build the stadiums in any event. We need modern infrastructure to bolster sports. Some experts are apprehensive that future stadiums will be too big and will stand empty. But I have no doubt that they will be filled. People will go to such arenas gladly because they’ll have an opportunity to watch a game in comfort, and the games will be played on good fields. In my opinion, the quality of stadiums will increase attendances.