Russia will host the Fifa World Cup in 2018. It will be the first time the country has hosted the tournament. Russia, an early favourite, was believed to have fallen behind the joint bid of Spain and Portugal and the English bid, but emerged victorious after the vote of the Fifa Executive Committee on Thursday in Zurich.
The result means Russia will be hosting the world’s two biggest sporting events within four years of each other. The country will host the 2014 winter Olympic Games in Sochi.
Fifa president Sepp Blatter was a well known supporter of the bid. The Russian bid had been the last to present to Fifa earlier in the day and provided a classy summary of its bid, despite the absence of prime minister Vladimir Putin. The bid team was led by Alexey Sorokin.
Following the announcement Fifa announced the results of the ExCo vote, which revealed that Russia won in the second round of voting with 13 votes.
The voting breakdown was as follows:
Round 1: England 2; Holland/Belgium 4; Spain/Portugal 7; Russia 9
Round 2: Holland/Belgium 2; Spain/Portugal 7; Russia 13
Russias final bid presentation
Last but by no means least, the Russian bid team for the 2018 World Cup was the fourth to take the stage in Zurich this morning.
Running some five minutes late as a result of the overrunning Spain-Portugal presentation, the Russian bid was introduced by bid chief executive Alexey Sorokin.
"Being the last bid to present we have two options," joshed Sorokin. "Either bore you to death with facts and figures from our bid book, or show you what is in our hearts. We chose the second option."
"We believe we have a monumental opportunity to partner with Fifa to make history come alive. For Russia the benefits are clear, for Fifa the benefits are access to new markets, new players and new fans."
Sorokin softened the mood by saying he understood why people see Russia as a Churchillian enigma. "But," he says, "that Russia is a thing of the past."
The first video, showing the geographical and human diversity of the country through one football-playing little boy, was set to the kind of pumping Euro-trance that often ends up winning the Eurovision song contest. Awful it might have been, but each to their own. The first glimpse of the cultural card was seen as a snippet of opera, featuring football playing singers.
ExCo member Vitaly Mutko then took to the stage and was applauded for pledging to "speak from my heart, in English."
"Russia's economy is large and growing. Russia's sports marketing is growing rapidly." Mutko pointed to the US$1 billion raised domestically by Sochi 2014 as an enticing precursor to what could be done
"If you give us a chance, Fifa, you will never regret. I also promise that in 2018, I will speak English like my friend Geoff Thompson." Guffaws followed from Mutko's colleagues.
Mutko then pulled up another Rio-style map; the third or fourth time a presentation had used that tactic over the two days.
"A vote for Russia is a vote for the future. The first World Cup in Eastern Europe"
Sorokin, contrary to his initial statement, then went on to explain the technical aspects of the bid: 16 stadiums in 13 cities - "the Russian jewels", and four central hubs, addressing an issue that Fifa's evaluation committee had raised following its inspection.
"We propose a very efficient transport plan," Sorokin drove home the point. Visa-free entry and free transport for match ticket-holders were the key points he emphasised.
The second video, set to a what sounded like a Tchaikovsky waltz, featured an attractive woman taking viewers on a brisk animated tour of Russia's proposed World Cup facilities. In animated form, they all looked very impressive. The no-visa point, as well as the transport infrastructure were again re-iterated. "The jewels of Russia are of course her children," the narrator declared, revealing a pleasing focus on youth. "A vote for Russia is a vote for the future. The first World Cup in Eastern Europe." How well will these big, but vague sentiments go down?
Yelena Isinbayeva, having had her sport of pole-vaulting amusingly explained by Sepp Blatter in his preamble, then took the stage and nervously ran through her athletic achievements. Isinbayeva thanked Fifa for believing in the power of female athletes and seemed to suggest that a vote for Russia would be a vote for women. Her nerves, however, may have contributed to the big round of applause she received. Her inclusion seemed to have gone some way to humanising a country and a people that are often seen as alien to the rest of the world.
The deadpan Andrey Arshavin followed his countrywoman, explaining that he was not the easiest kid to manage when he was growing up. "Football made me what I am today - it taught me the values of discipline, fair play and respect. My coach believed in me and now I ask you to believe in us."
An impressive performance was capped by Arshavin when he urged Fifa to form a team with him and with Russia.
Russian deputy prime minister Igor Shuvalov brought proceedings to a close by explaining his nation - "a bridge between the west and the east. But there is much, much more to it. Let me tell you about my Russia: I represent modern Russia."
He gave a little of his life story, brought up in the far northern province of Russia, with temperatures reaching -40 celsius. With such temperatures playing football isn't easy, but, he explained, they managed to do it - and with almost masochistic relish - in northern Russia. "It was the happiest time of my life."
Shuvalov then went on to explain away infrastructural and economical problems and misconceptions about his country as challenges that they are determined to overcome.
"We speak over 100 different national languages," he said of his cosmopolitan country. "The World Cup will help us overcome our tragic history of the 20th century. No other nation has had the same tragedy as we had in the 20th century. We are building a new country and we can do it better and quicker with your help. Fifa is the only institution that can promote economic and social development on a global scale."
He drew a parallel with another "forgotten continent" - Africa, and praised Fifa for opening it up with the 2010 World Cup.
"If you let us host the World Cup, you will have a partner you've never had in the past," he concluded. "Any decision you take will be a historic one, but only one will make history. Let us make history together."
Running a little over the allotted time, another video demonstrating Russia's remarkable diversity brought the presentation to a climax before the most numerous bid team of all of them - featuring numerous football luminaries and cultural icons, including Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich, got up on stage to receive Sepp Blatter's playful platitudes and a certificate of bidding.