The FIFA World Cup in Russia is the most expensive ever, with an official price tag of $15 billion. Close to $3 billion has been spent on 12 new or upgraded stadiums, and at least another $8 billion on infrastructure, including new roads, railroads and airports.
Is that a good return for the Russian taxpayer?
Professor Leonid Grigoryev, an economist at the Analytical Center for the Government of the Russian Federation, offers an unusual analogy.
“The discussion of the efficiency of the championship in Russia, like in Brazil, is the discussion of the economic efficiency of a wedding dress. On one hand, it’s necessary. It makes everybody happy,” Grigoryev told VOA in an interview. “The exact economic efficiency definitely cannot be defined in American quarterly financial reports. It’s a long-term story. We still hope to become not only a hockey country, but a football country.”
Brazil hosted the last World Cup at an estimated cost of $11 billion. Four years later, some of their traveling fans feel short-changed.
“Comparing Brazil with Russia, the infrastructure here is much better than ours,” Marcio Pessoa told VOA, as he enjoyed the festival atmosphere in Moscow’s Red Square.
Russia’s $15 billion investment is aimed at giving Russia an image makeover in the eyes of the world, even as it faces sanctions over its 2014 invasion of Ukraine and annexation of Crimea.
“[President Vladimir] Putin, with all this strength, pretends that all that is not important for him — ‘Despite sanctions, we conduct such a gorgeous World Cup. Despite sanctions we go ahead with the war in Syria. And the world has no right to lecture us.’ And the people enjoy that — until the very moment that they start feeling that for all this pleasure, they are paying out of their own pockets. It is right now that they start feeling that,” political analyst Dmitry Oreshkin said.
The first to feel the pinch are likely to be the middle-aged looking forward to retirement. On opening day of the World Cup last week, the government announced a gradual rise in the pension age, from 60 to 65 for men, and a much bigger jump for women, from 55 to 63.
Moscow resident Eva, 62, told VOA that most Russians are taking it in their stride.
“It wasn’t really unexpected. Probably, they thought that the championship, the euphoria, will somehow smoothen out the effect. There was a joke going around. ‘Yesterday, I had four years until pension age. Today, I have nine years. And they still keep telling us that you can’t get your youth back!’” she said.
Russia said the World Cup is partly a gift for its youth: Unforgettable memories and glittering new facilities. The tournament finishes in a month. Its legacy will be measured in the coming years.