Blatter hails Russia progress in $20 bn World Cup
World football supremo Sepp Blatter on Sunday said Russia was well ahead of schedule towards hosting the 2018 World Cup, despite the huge task of realising a project costing almost $20 billion.
Blatter said one day after FIFA and Russia unveiled the final list of the 11 Russian host cities that Russia's "new approach" was more efficient than that of South Africa in 2010 or Brazil, which will host the 2014 edition.
"We are one year ahead of schedule. This is a new approach for organising World Cups," the FIFA president told reporters alongside Russian Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko.
"With this approach we have already come so far, six years before the start," he said.
After a bid championed by President Vladimir Putin, Russia was in December 2010 awarded the right to host the World Cup in a hugely controversial decision which was bitterly criticised by beaten rivals, including England, as tainted by corruption and vote-selling.
But Blatter emphasised the historic nature of hosting the event for the first time in eastern Europe, saying FIFA had decided to skip the "traditional houses" of western Europe.
He said that after winning the right to host the World Cup in 2010, the South Africans were "just dancing" with joy and had to be told by FIFA to get to work.
Brazil, meanwhile, has expressed confidence that it is ready "but that is not exactly the case," Blatter said.
"The Russians started to work so hard right from the start. It is a different approach. I am very happy."
The 11 Russian cities that will host matches extend from the Baltic exclave of Kaliningrad on the borders of the European Union to Yekaterinburg in the Urals, three time zones and 2,500 kilometres (1,500 miles) to the east.
Mutko described hosting the World Cup as a "great honour and a huge challenge", with seven of the 11 host cities still needing to completely rebuild existing stadiums or construct them from scratch.
He estimated the total cost of the World Cup at 600 billion rubles ($19.2 billion, 14.9 billion euros), saying that half of the funds would come from private investment and half from either the federal or regional budgets.
Not only stadiums but new airports, hotels and roads will need to be built in several provincial cities which until now have seen only a trickle of foreign visitors and are almost unknown to the outside world.
The full list of host cities is: Moscow, Kaliningrad, Kazan, Nizhny Novgorod, Saint Petersburg, Samara, Sochi, Rostov-on-Don, Saransk, Volgograd and Yekaterinburg.
The decision sparked huge disappointment in the cities of Yaroslavl and Krasnodar, which were cut from an original long list of 13. "There is nothing personal here," said Mutko.
Moscow, which will host the opening match and the final, is the only city with two host venues -- the existing Luzhniki stadium that also hosted the 1980 Summer Olympics and the new Spartak venue that is still being built.
Mutko admitted that only four of the host cities could so far be said to be in a high state of readiness for the event -- Moscow, Saint Petersburg, 2014 Winter Olympics host Sochi and 2013 Universiade host Kazan.
In others, like Kaliningrad, a new stadium will have to be built from scratch, not to mention a host of other buildings. "For now the level of (World Cup) infrastructure in Kaliningrad is at zero," said Mutko.
But he described the World Cup as a unique chance to showcase lesser-known parts of Russia like Kaliningrad -- the former German East Prussia -- or Saransk, with its big population of Finno-Ugric-speaking Mordvins.
Highlighting some of the logistical headaches lying ahead, Mutko noted that the stadium in Yekaterinburg is located next to the city prison. "It (the prison) will have to be relocated," he said.
"All the regions have a lot of work ahead."
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