One of the enduring storylines during the buildup to the Brazil World Cup was all the money the government was spending to subsidize a sporting event while significant portions of the population were living in poverty. The price tag ended up somewhere in the neighborhood of $14.9 billion, $11.3 billion of which was spent on the kind of infrastructure that would allow the millions of visitors to get around the far-flung country.
Well, linking Russia together might be an even bigger task. So perhaps it should come as little surprise that Vladimir Putin's government is poised to spend even more on the 2018 World Cup: $20 billion, which would make it the most expensive soccer tournament in history. When Russia first won the right to host, the costs were estimated to be about half of that. Prior to Brazil, the most expensive World Cup in history was the $6 billion Germany spent in 2006.
This comes on the heels of Russia spending more than $50 billon to put on the Sochi Winter Olympics, money that most experts seem to agree will do little longterm good for the country. Hotel operators reportedly can't break their leases fast enough as the remote Black Sea town is showing few signs of turning into a vacation mecca for Russians or anyone else.
Although the World Cup seems unlikely to produce waste on the scale of Sochi -- a relatively sleepy resort town in southwestern Russia that will host World Cup games as well -- there's understandable debate over how well spent this money will be. All 12 stadiums in the 11 cities spread out over about 1,500 miles are either being built from scratch or significantly retrofitted.
While the stadiums in Moscow and St. Petersburg were probably due for significant retrofits and will likely be well used, the Russian Premier League only averages about 11,000 per game. Considering none of the 12 stadiums will fit fewer than 43,000, there are bound to be significant numbers of unused seats even if the World Cup proves to be a boon to the Russian Premier League.
Of course all this pales in comparison to the $200 billion Qatar is promising to spend for the 2022 World Cup...