It is widely assumed that Fifa did itself no favours by granting Russia’s bid to host the World Cup. The more interesting question, though, is whether it has done Russia a favour. Might the tournament prove a catalyst for much-needed change?
Change is needed not only because of the decrepit condition of Russia’s infrastructure, but because of the cause of this decrepitude: the model of “civilised relations between business and the state.” Today it is normal practice for contractors to submit grossly inflated bids and divide the proceeds with those who regulate them, which means road construction is sclerotic, maintenance funds are depleted and the cost of permits and licenses is exorbitant. Might the pressure of delivering a World Cup on time strengthen the strains on this system, and the pressure to clean it up?
What effects, also, will the cup have on a level of football racism that is not only more virulent than in Britain, but supported by the police and courts? Will international scrutiny and censure alter this malign balance? If, as Russia’s reformers now allege, the status quo is unsustainable, a Russian World Cup might well make their case.