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Channel One Russia anchor Andrei Malakhov: There are less than two hours to go now before the envelopes are opened and the Soccer World Cup host cities are named. Of the three huge events that the whole world watches, the first is the Olympic Games, the second is the Soccer World Cup, and the third is Eurovision. Russia will host the Olympics in 18 months’ time. You have a connection to Russia’s bids for both the Olympics and the Soccer World Cup, and so I want to ask you, what does holding the World Cup in Russia actually mean to you?
President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Above all, it is an excellent opportunity for us to get a lot more young people interested in sport, get them hooked on sport rather than on drink and cigarettes. We have been putting much more attention into sports programmes of late, and this is a justified policy given the demographic problems we face and the need to improve our people’s health. These kinds of big competitions offer a real chance to get young people involved in sport.
”The World Cup in Russia is an excellent opportunity to get a lot more young people interested in sport, get them hooked on sport rather than on drink and cigarettes.“
Andrei Malakhov: When Russia was announced as the host country for the 2018 World Cup, you were risking your reputation in a way, given that Russia had not so long before won the right to host the Olympics in Sochi. In bidding for this new event, weren’t you worried that Russia’s chances of winning might not be so good?
Vladimir Putin: We started this whole process quite a long time ago. We began setting our sights on it back in 2005. It was then that we had our first discussions on the matter with the FIFA officials, with [FIFA President] Joseph Blatter and other sports organisers at the international level. In 2008, we started actually carrying out our plans and made our bid, and in 2010 we were named as the host country.
Of course, if you get involved in particular programmes and projects you always put your reputation on the line in the sense that things might not work out for reasons beyond your control, and I was fully aware of this aspect of course, fully aware of the possible risks.
But at the same time, I have always believed – and practice supports me here – that it is right to take these risks, because the minute the issue of reputation starts taking precedence in the minds of people doing jobs such as mine, actual substance and action start taking second place and then we all end up losing out for sure.
And so, while I was aware of the risks, there was no doubt in my mind that giving this bid our clear support was the right thing to do. If we want to win, we must take risks and strive towards our goal. The other option was very simple: not get involved, distance ourselves from the whole idea, but as our organisers and friends in the international affairs and sports worlds all said, our bid would have been almost sure to lose then. The people at the top should always be personally involved. We did this and we achieved our goal, and this makes me very happy.
Andrei Malakhov: Some people say that the Soccer World Cup is a celebration of sports. Others say it is an event for the sake of international prestige, and yet others call it the kind of grand national construction project the Soviet leaders liked to get the country building. So, what is it above all in your eyes: grand national project, boost to international prestige, or celebration of sport?
Vladimir Putin: The top priority is what we talked about at the beginning — getting young people into sport. The idea of a big national construction project is a secondary consideration. And of course it won’t be of the Soviet-era kind, though it certainly will be a big project. In this sense, even with the global economy going through a lot of turbulence, as the trendy term goes, projects such as holding the Olympics, the APEC summit in Vladivostok, or the World University Games in Kazan all help to boost economic growth.
”Projects such as holding the Olympics, the APEC summit in Vladivostok, or the World University Games in Kazan all help to boost economic growth. It will create new jobs and bring new technology, and it will develop infrastructure. It will leave people with something that will serve them for decades to come.“
The Soccer World Cup project will see state, regional and local authorities investing in a very important sphere, namely, the country’s health. It will create new jobs and bring new technology, and it will develop infrastructure, not just sports infrastructure, but engineering and transport infrastructure too. It will leave people with something that will serve them for decades to come. As I said – and this is a very important point – it will be an engine for growth in the construction sector, and each new job in the construction sector could create a dozen jobs in related sectors too. In short, this is an important project in every respect.
Andrei Malakhov: In two hours’ time, some will be overjoyed and others will be disappointed, because the initial idea was that 15 cities in Russia would host World Cup matches, then it was 13, and now it is 11. How will you support those who won’t hear their favourite city’s name when the envelopes are opened?
Vladimir Putin: According to the FIFA rules, or rather traditions, competition takes place in approximately ten cities. We put forward 15 at first, and then 13, so that the FIFA delegation, the FIFA commission, could visit all of the proposed host venues and choose the ones that best meet FIFA’s requirements. It is the FIFA commission that will make the final decision.
We currently have 13 cities on the list. This will go down to 10 or 11. We will fight to have 11 host cities. But no one will be left out in this celebration of life and sport. We will try to organise everything in such a way that if cities are struck off the list, and unfortunately this will happen, they will get to host training and rest bases for the different teams, so that the people taking part in the World Cup will still come to their cities. If needed, we are ready to subsidise intercity travel so that people can get to the competition venues at cheaper cost. This goes for rail and road transport, and for other kinds of transport if need be, including planes. If required, we will subsidise these measures.
I am sure that the entire country, all sports lovers in any case, will be happy. I too am looking forward to this celebration.
Andrei Malakhov: Do you also not know which cities will win?
Vladimir Putin: No, I don’t know the winners. It is my big hope that as well as promoting sport in general among the public, this competition will also give a boost to top-level sport, soccer in this particular case, and that our top teams and players will get themselves up to world standards and put on a performance worthy of our country.
Andrei Malakhov: Well, their pay, in some cases at least, is certainly at international level, so now it just remains to get their game up to par too.
Vladimir Putin: I hope very much that this will happen.