Russia is combining a bid to host World Cup football (soccer) matches in 2018 or 2022 with a plan for major infrastructure improvements in a number of its neglected cities. Russian officials hope a successful bid will also provide the nation's youth with sports facilities that collapsed along with the Soviet Union nearly a generation ago.
Russia now has only one facility that meets standards set by FIFA, football's international governing body - the 80,000 seat Luzhniki stadium in Moscow. In a bid unveiled at the posh GUM department store on Red Square, Russia is proposing to build or upgrade 15 stadiums in 14 host cities.
Speaking at the event, Russian Sport Minister Vitaly Mutko said football is a social phenomenon and the games could facilitate development of the country and engage young people.
Mutko says World Cup football championship games in Russia would spur development of at least 12 cities.
Russian sport facilities deteriorated with the loss of state subsidies after the Soviet collapse in 1991.
To win its bid, Russia would need to build or improve airports, hotels, roads and hospitals in the host cities. The football match sites would be dispersed in clusters of cities near Saint Petersburg in the north, Moscow in the center, Kazan on the Volga River, Rostov-on-Don in the south and Yekaterinburg in the Ural Mountains.
FIFA President Sepp Blatter is expected to visit Moscow next week to discuss Russia's bid with Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and other Russian officials.
Countries competing with Russia to host the 2018 or 2022 World Cup are the United States, Australia, Japan, and England. Mexico has withdrawn its bid. Portugal and Spain have filed joint proposals as have the Netherlands and Belgium. Indonesia, South Korea, and Qatar are competing only for the 2022 games.
Two years ago, FIFA abandoned its policy of rotating the World Cup from continent to continent beginning in 2018. The organization will decide at the end of next year which countries will host the games in 2018 and 2022.