Global Politics

England, Russia trade barbs over World Cup

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Russian soccer supporters (Image by Wikimedia user Акутагава (cc:by-sa))

This story was originally covered by PRI's The World. For more, listen to the audio above.

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By Jessica Golloher

Russia and England are considered front runners to host the 2018 World Cup championships. World soccer's governing body, FIFA, is expected to announce the winner on Thursday. But the war of words is already in full swing.

Andrei Sorokin, the head of Russia's Football Union and the man in charge of Russia's world cup bid, has called England's attempt to get the games "primitive." He accuses the UK of, among other things, being rife with alcoholism and hooliganism.

Thirty-two-year-old Araz Symbytan, a huge soccer fan who was captain of his university soccer team, told PRI's The World: "In England, hooligans look like an actual organization. In Russia it isn't true that here are more hooligans. I think it's safer here because the police are very strong."

Russian officials have admitted that there are a small amount of trouble-makers at soccer matches, but they say they've got the situation under control.

Or not. At a regional match last May unruly fans chanted, "soccer is for fans, not for cops!" And some threw plastic chairs at police.

In addition to the occasional hard core fan, Sorokin acknowledges that Russia doesn't have the infrastructure in place to host an event like the World Cup. The motherland needs to build 16 stadiums, create more hotel space and mend countless roads in order to be FIFA compliant.

But in an interview on state-run television, Sorokin said not to worry.

"We've never had problems delivering what we've promised. We do have a lot of things to build, but it's no secret and we've already started constructing 9 out of 16 stadiums.

Another possible obstacle might be Russia's size, and 11 time zones: not especially convenient. But again, Sorokin said, "not a problem."

"The distances will be in regular limits for FIFA. Right now the farthest city we have is two hours by plane from Moscow. That is not extraordinary for FIFA. Look at the history of the world cup. We had Brazil, South Africa; these are not small countries.

Maxim Elin is another soccer fan. He says Russia may have its drawbacks, but it deserves a chance.

"It's not about Russian football. But it's about Russian people, Russia as a brand, as a new country. It's not only the country that produces petroleum. It's a country of a great culture and people with a great heart.

Even some die-hard British fans believe Russia should get a crack at one of the world's most prestigious sporting events. James Cooper, an expat and avid British soccer fan in Moscow's Silvers Sports Bar, said England doesn't stand a chance to host the 2018 World Cup.

"It won't happen because they're shite! England's world cup bid has been tarnished," he said, referring to numerous corruption scandals.

But that may have just been the beer talking.

FIFA is expected to make its decision on Thursday.

PRI's "The World" is a one-hour, weekday radio news magazine offering a mix of news, features, interviews, and music from around the globe. "The World" is a co-production of the BBC World Service, PRI and WGBH Boston.