Preparation works across Russia for hosting the 2018 FIFA World Cup are finally wrapping up as the tournament kicks off on June 14. Home team Russia will face Saudi Arabia in the first game at Moscow’s iconic Luzhniki Stadium, which reopened in late 2017 following a four-year renewal to make it fit to stage seven games throughout the tournament, including the final on July 15.

Local authorities are now touting the upgrade as the icing on the cake of an urban regeneration plan expected to last way beyond the football tournament. 

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Wider benefits

“We think the infrastructure will be a great contribution to the public space,” says Sergey Cheremin, head of the department for external economic and international relations of the Moscow government. “This is because our strategy was also to develop the public space and to create a more comfortable environment for citizens to enjoy sports.

“For example, if we take Luzhniki Stadium, it is not only for sports such as tennis, hockey and other training facilities – you can just work there. We think that this infrastructure can be used for a lot of public events such as concerts and culture events. It is also important for us that our citizens are healthier. That shows that we are not only ready for big world events, we also provide these opportunities for citizens to have much healthier lifestyles.”

Luzhniki Stadium is just one iconic example of the ageing infrastructure built in Soviet times that the Moscow government has regenerated in recent years to improve the liveability of the city. The Russian capital suffered through the 1990s and early 2000s as a new, rising economy built around the services sector disrupted the old industrial urban fabric of the previous decades, with local authorities struggling to incorporate these changes in the city urban planning.

Generating momentum

The World Cup has created much-needed momentum for the city government to set in motion deep regeneration plans across Moscow, beginning with its sports infrastructure, but also including its numerous idle former industrial zones.

“Nowadays we have approximately 20,000 hectares of different [industrial] zones,” says Mr Cheremin. “We think that within several years, more than 12,000 hectares will be refurbished and reconstructed; 5000 hectares are already reconstructed into high-quality industrial clusters or techno parks. These are mixed use; some social, some residential areas.”

The ongoing investment push by the public and private sectors is happening just as the Russian economy has gradually pulled out of the recession that hit in mid-2014, when the commodity supercycle ended. Russian GDP grew by 1.5% in 2017, after two years of recession.

“The city has great opportunity for growth. We badly need knowledge, expertise and updated solutions in municipal management. That’s why we are really striving [to attract international] corporations. That’s why Moscow has a great relationship with nearly 100 megalopolises in the world, from Singapore to New York to Lim,” says Mr Cheremin.

Tensions persist

If the World Cup has been a catalyst for investment in both Moscow and Russia, it also comes at a time when relations between the Kremlin and the West are tense. Since Russia landed the right to host the World Cup in 2010, the conflict in Ukraine, along with other skirmishes, has sent diplomatic tensions in the region through the roof.

With another round of tighter international sanctions in place, the Russian economy has yet to get fully back on track, and the local business environment remains risky for foreign investors. Football may prove a temporary relief, and a driver of investment across the board – but it will not fix the problems that go well beyond, and will outlive, the 2018 World Cup.