Moscow — Russia intends to spend more than $200m to make sure stadiums built for the 2018 Fifa World Cup do not go to waste after the showpiece ends.
The hosts are trying to use the football tournament to revive fan interest in the struggling domestic leagues. Each of the 11 host cities is either getting a brand new arena or having an existing one refurbished from the ground up.
The idea is to replace cavernous all-purpose stadiums in which supporters are exposed to the sun and snow with modern ones outfitted with the latest amenities.
Russian President Vladimir Putin issued an order last October requiring his government to draft a World Cup "legacy" programme that raises club-match attendance and boosts youth player development. But the question long facing Russia has been how to reap rewards from the massive investment in cities where local clubs play second-tier football.
The cabinet’s proposal reported by state media on Tuesday admits that the government will have to foot the bill in some places until 2023.
"Keeping in mind the high cost of stadium operations and the low expected football club revenues, it is impossible to expect stadium use to be commercially viable in the next three to five years," the government programme says.
The RIA Novosti state news agency said the government wants to assign 16.6-billion roubles ($265m) to the legacy programme. Most of that money — $190m — will come from the federal budget and be assigned to keeping stadiums open in seven of the smaller host cities. Some of the money will also be spent on training facilities and youth football centres.
Russia admits that it will not turn a profit as host, but it views the international football extravaganza as a chance to make a long-term investment in a game that has struggled since Soviet times.
It also dearly wants to avoid getting stuck with white elephants — stadiums built for major events that turn into abandoned symbols of mismanagement and excess. The problem has most recently attracted attention after the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Summer Olympic Games in Brazil.