Zambian Business Times

Putin’s World Cup dividends will be puny, say economists


Unlike the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, they say the best Russia can hope for this time around is a modest gain in the rouble President Vladimir Putin has spent six (6) years and more than $11bn preparing nearly a dozen Russian cities to host the Soccer World Cup, the biggest such event the country’s held since the collapse of the Soviet Union.

As millions of fans spread out across European Russia over the next four weeks, the Kremlin is hoping to show a friendlier face and break some of the internatio­nal isolation Russia’s suffered in the years since it annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014.

From Yekaterinb­urg in the Urals to Kaliningra­d on the Baltic Sea, the championsh­ip reaches cities few foreign visitors have seen before.

Still, as high as the price tag is, economists say the massive effort won’t be enough to generate much of a blip in Russia’s almost $1.5-trillion economy.

Moody’s Investors Service said last month that any boost would be limited and short-lived, well short of the fillip provided by the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, which cost a record $50bn.

Economists say the best Russia can hope for this time around is a modest gain in the rouble. Putin plans to attend the opening game on Thursday between Russia and Saudi Arabia at Moscow’s Luzhniki stadium, which will also stage the final on July 15.

The president has admitted he doesn’t think the Russian team is going to do very well, and he told Chinese reporters last week that his favourites include Spain, Germany, Argentina and Brazil. Russia is the lowest-rated World Cup team in Fifa’s world rankings, at 70th.

Hosting the tournament successful­ly "will contribute on the margins to easing Russia’s isolation from Europe", says Vladimir Frolov, a former Russian diplomat who’s now a foreign policy analyst in Moscow.

"Raising Russia’s brand value with a welcoming, peaceful, and fun sporting event" may help provide a longer-lasting effect from hosting the World Cup, UBS analysts said in a report in May. "Unfortunat­ely, years of efforts and funds can be lost in a heartbeat when it comes to reputation, as recent geopolitic­al tensions show."

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