Russia’s World Cup Will Pay Off. Just Not Today (Op-ed)

Moscow gets roasted over what is widely assumed to be a corruption rout by the oligarchs. By way of comparison, France spent a mere $2 billion when it hosted the competition in 1998.

But the criticism misses the point of the huge spend.

It’s not just a question of building a couple of stadiums and planting flowers along a few roads. In many of Russia’s 11 host cities, much of what makes a modern city was simply missing.

The World Cup money went into upgrading or replacing dilapidated Soviet-era infrastructure: new roads, airports, hotels, conference centers, telecom networks and rail links. (A plan to link all the venues with the new high-speed rail links was abandoned due to the astronomical $60 billion investment bill.)

In Russia, upgrading infrastructure is an expensive and difficult business. Take, for example, the cost of building a new road. In Europe the average cost is $5 million per kilometer. In Moscow it is 10 times more, according to real estate professionals.

Part of this is corruption, but only part. There are no detailed maps of what lies under roads, so any pipes or wires found supplying buildings have to be moved or remade.