FIFA President Sepp Blatter
Russia and FIFA Saturday unveiled the 11 cities that will host the 2018 World Cup in the most ambitious project the country has organised since the fall of the USSR.
The World Cup will be played in Moscow, former imperial capital Saint Petersburg, 2014 Winter Olympics host Sochi, Kazan on the Volga, Yekaterinburg in the Urals and six other cities largely unknown to foreigners until now.
In the televised ceremony, fronted by FIFA president Sepp Blatter and Russian Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko, Yaroslavl and Krasnodar were ousted from the original long list of 13 cities.
Unlike the Winter Olympics, the World Cup will require the government to spend billions of dollars developing sports, tourist and transport infrastructure in hitherto under-developed areas across the country.
The most westerly host city is the Baltic exclave of Kaliningrad, the former German East Prussia that borders the European Union, while the most easterly is the Urals city of Yekaterinburg, three time zones and 2 500 kilometres away.
“I am convinced that it will be a great success. Not only all of you (the people) but the president, the government, the parliament and the footballers are behind it,” said Blatter.
He lavished praise on the professionalism of the organising committee, saying that Russia’s preparations were ahead of schedule. “Thank you, Russia,” he said.
The full list of host cities is: Moscow, Kaliningrad, Kazan, Nizhny Novgorod, Saint Petersburg, Samara, Sochi, Rostov-on-Don, Saransk, Volgograd and Yekaterinburg.
Russia was awarded the right to host the World Cup in December 2010 in a hugely controversial decision that also gave the 2022 World Cup to Qatar and was bitterly contested by the losing bidding countries like England.
The bid was championed by Russian President Vladimir Putin whose strong political backing clearly impressed FIFA.