Russians roared in triumph on Thursday after the country won the right to host the 2018 World Cup finals, sparking festivities in government halls and sports bars across the frozen land.
Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who had complained of unscrupulous competition in the contest, said he was leaving Moscow immediately to fly to FIFA headquarters in Zurich to thank the soccer governing body.
“In Russia we love football, we know about football and we have everything to ensure that we hold the 2018 World Cup in a very worthy way,” Putin told reporters in Moscow.
“Of course we need to do a great deal — stadiums, airports, hotels, roads — but that is the challenge, that is the advantage of our bid because that means the development of world football,” Russia’s paramount leader added.
The FIFA decision is a timely victory for Putin after leaked U.S. diplomatic cables earlier this week cast the former KGB spy as a leader who presides over corrupt officials and crooked spies.
Transparency International rates Russia joint 154th out of 178 nations in its corruption perceptions index, along with Cambodia, Kenya and Laos. Russia is perceived as more corrupt than any other G20 or BRIC country.
Russia plans a massive building project to prepare for the World Cup and the shares of Russian steel companies rallied on Thursday on expectation that hosting the World Cup would fuel a lucrative construction boom.
The defeat of three other European bids — England and the joint bids of Netherlands/Belgium and Spain/Portugal — is a matter of great pride for Russia, which became the first country in Eastern Europe to win the right to hold the final.
Soccer fans sat tensely in rows of chairs facing a wide-screen TV at a sports bar in central Moscow, roaring when they saw that Russia was the winner.
“I’m thrilled that Russia is finally going to be seen on the stage of international football,” said Maxim Ivanov, 28, a Spartak Moscow fan. “We hope that Russia getting the World Cup will help develop domestic football here.”
“Everyone here believed that the strength of the country would be enough, and we were all sure that when Russia wants something, it will get it,” said Ivan Kuznetsov, 26.
“Hooray! Victory!” President Dmitry Medvedev said just minutes after Russia’s bid was declared the winner, sparking celebrations across Moscow which has been shivering in Arctic temperatures reaching minus 25 degrees Celsius (minus 13 degrees Fahrenheit) since the start of the week.
“I wasn’t sure how it was going to work out, but I thought of it like a soccer match and waited for the final result,” said Alexei Selivanovich, 26, a web designer who had a tricolour Russian flag tied around his beer glass at a sports bar.
Some motorists drove the streets with Russian flags rippling from the windows in the frigid air.
Economists said that hosting the bid could spark a major construction boom for Russia’s $1.2 trillion economy and could help polish Russia’s investment image, which has been tarnished by concerns over corruption and poor property rights.
Russia has a massive building project to prepare for the World Cup and has put forward proposals for 16 stadiums in 13 host cities, with only three current stadiums being renovated and 13 to be built from scratch.
The construction project is budgeted at $3.82 billion — the largest figure among the four European bidders, though if the experience of preparing for the 2014 Winter Olympics is anything to go by, that figure could jump sharply.