FIFA wants Russia to cut the number of stadiums it plans to build for the 2018 World Cup, Russian sports minister Vitaly Mutko told reporters on Tuesday.
In Russia’s initial World Cup bid in 2010, organisers planned to build and renovate 16 stadiums at a cost of $US3.3 billion. That number was later reduced to 12. Now, four years before the tournament, FIFA has recommended that only 10 stadiums be built.
All of this is a good thing. It’s an acknowledgment, on some level at least, of something that economists have known for years — building big, expensive stadiums for a one-time event like the World Cup is waste.
Brazil built and renovated 12 stadiums for the 2014 World Cup. The $US3.6 billion price tag contributed to the widespread protests over government waste and corruption that spread throughout the country in the summer of 2013. With a relatively strong professional league, some of these venues have logical post-World Cup uses. Others, like the Arena Amazonia in Manaus (a city with no top-tier professional team) have more worrisome futures.
The fear is that these stadiums will become white elephants — expensive-to-maintain monuments that serve no function.
South Africa is the most recent example of this phenomenon. Nearly all of the 10 stadiums built for the 2010 World Cup are losing money, according to the Globe & Mail. The $US600-million Cape Town stadium is losing up to $US10 million per year, and is “largely abandoned,” the Globe & Mail reports.
The 2004 Athens Olympics is another cautionary tale, and there are jarring photos to prove it. Ten years after the games, many of the venues for niche sports like softball, beach volleyball, and kayaking are abandoned. The Olympic Village — which was supposed to be turned into public housing — is also basically empty.
The easy way to eliminate the possibility of white elephants is to only host the World Cup in countries with existing stadiums and thriving domestic teams to occupy them. While FIFA would never do that, they deserve some credit for trying to reign in the number of potentially useless stadiums that will get built.
Russia, which has a demonstrated disregard to cost when it comes to building sports stadiums, might just go ahead and build a bunch of unnecessary venues anyway. But in the long term it’s a positive sign that FIFA is doing this.
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