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«THE MOST INTERESTING THING IS HOW THE WORLD CUP WILL CHANGE OUR COUNTRY»
ALEXEY SOROKIN:
Interview //// Stanislav Alexandrov
experience of working in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. This provided valuable training for the high-ranking sports official that Alexey Sorokin became in 2004, when he was appointed Deputy Director of Moscomsport. He put those skills to further use in 2007 as the main coordinator of the UEFA Champions League Final hosted by Moscow the following year. When he was appointed CEO of the Russian Football Union (RFU), Vitaly Mutko emphasised that Sorokin could bring relations between FIFA and UEFA to a significant new level. And that's exactly what happened with his negotiations for the hosting of the FIFA World Cup in Russia. However, before undertaking that ambitious task, Sorokin gained experience by partaking in Moscow's bid for the 2012 Summer Olympics and Sochi's bid for the 2014 Winter Games. The former, as we know, went to London but the success of the latter proved that the dream of bringing the World Cup to Russia was feasible, and Sorokin was thus appointed Head of Russia's 2018 Bid Committee. He proved more than equal to the task as he masterminded that famous ballot victory in December 2010. Then came an even bigger test: organising the competition itself. He could hardly have done a better job with its execution, thanks to a combination of diplomacy, style and expert business knowledge.
Alexey Sorokin dedicated
nine years of his life to the
2018 FIFA World Cup.
After making Russia's case
as World Cup hosts,
he then went about showing
that THE RIGHT CHOICE
HAD BEEN MADE
Alexey Sorokin certainly knows how to persuade people. He is an expert in making connections as well as a specialist in international relations, having received a diploma in precisely this field from the Moscow State Linguistic University in 1994. He is also a diplomat with six years'
As far as I know, the idea to hold the FIFA World Cup in Russia was conceived a decade ago, when you would have been 36. Yet suddenly you came up with a concept that most people would have considered impossible. Do you remember the moment the idea first occurred to you?
This idea occurred to several people simultaneously. At the time we had a quite unusual situation with the Russian Football Union (RFU) effectively withdrawing from bidding for the 2012 UEFA European Championship. As a result, the championship was hosted by Poland and Ukraine, but it served to provide another incentive for us "to believe in ourselves and bid for the World Cup."
Who do you mean by 'we'? Whose decision was it to bid?
Vitaly Mutko's. He was the RFU President, I was the CEO. The idea emerged from a mix of wishful thinking, deliberations and debates that went over and back: "Let's do it" – "Nah, you must be joking..." "Maybe we could...?" – "Well, I suppose maybe." "Why don't we try?" – "All right, let's try, but we'll have hardly any support" – "Or maybe we will!" May 2009 became a landmark date for us when Vitaly Mutko received the President's approval. I was on vacation when Mutko called me and said: "I got his approval. Let's start this." Naturally, we began gathering information but it still remained just an abstract idea. And the challenge was even greater given that the bidding process had already begun. The English and Portuguese had already been working on their bids, the clock was ticking and we all realised that we had to act quickly or risk being also-rans".
What were the main arguments in the memorandum submitted to President Putin by Mutko? How did you persuade the President? Just by stating 'we can do it' or 'we can do it provided we have a certain amount of financing'?
No, no, we didn't touch on the subject of money at all. The main argument was: "It's appropriate and feasible right now." The economic situation in Russia was favourable, our international reputation was good (we were treated well in the world of international sports). During the 18 months after the decision had been made, we kept telling the world that we could do it. The words "World Cup", "Russia" and "possible" needed to become ingrained in the minds of international sports officials and influential business representatives.
What conditions are necessary for a country's bid to receive approval?
According to the existing regulations, first the federation has to submit a letter of intent to FIFA and provide government guarantees, demonstrating that the government of the host nation has the political will to organise the World Cup.
When did you personally realise that Russia was going to win the right to host the World Cup? On 2 December 2010, when FIFA officially announced its decision, or before that because of a leak or the realisation that you had the best chance?
No one believes it for sure beforehand, even if many later claimed that we'd known a day before the announcement. But no, we learned about it the moment it was officially announced. Yes, international officials and experts began to encourage us in the summer of 2010, telling us: "You have a chance, your reputation has improved. Keep up the good work!" We spent the autumn with a growing feeling that it was possible. We started to go to various countries on a regular basis, took part in all football-related events, all exhibitions, forums and confederations' conferences. We met the officials in charge and talked to them, explaining why Russia would be a good choice, and tried to convince them as best as we could. But it was only on 2 December that we learned that we'd won.
Did you have a particular strategy or series of arguments to persuade the voters that Russia was a good choice?
There were many arguments but, as I said before, the main ones were government support and firm guarantees of a successful tournament hosting.

In addition to that, we offered two extra bonuses: guaranteed visa-free entry to the country by using the FAN ID and free use of public transport.
Visa-free entry was clearly a great relief for the hundreds of thousands of fans...
The World Cup had never been held in Eastern Europe before, so we focussed on opening up frontiers, a process that started with the Fall of the Berlin Wall. Thirdly, we proved that we were ready in terms of financing and infrastructure. Fourthly, we had recently celebrated the 100th anniversary of the Russian Football Union, so no one could doubt the footballing pedigree we had. At the same time, we promoted the idea that the World Cup would give a significant boost to the development of football in our country and, on a larger scale, to Eastern Europe and Asia, since everything that happens in our country affects our neighbours as well. Our fifth point was Russia's geographic position, which would make it convenient for participants from Asia, Europe, Africa – anywhere in fact – to come here. Sixthly, our country represented a huge and largely unexplored market for FIFA's partners and sponsors.

In the end, we kept all our promises and deceived nobody along the way. The commercial success of the World Cup is also vitally important.
You must have given a lot of interviews to foreign journalists. Which one do you remember best?
I received a call once from Owen Slot, the chief rugby correspondent at The Times, who had a reasonable and cool attitude to Russia. He said: "I understand you might have preconceptions about the British press and you are extremely busy, and I'm only in Russia just for a couple of days, so I will understand if you refuse..." And I told him: "Come to my place, I live in the countryside, you'll get to see how we live!" And that's what he did, visiting me at my countryside residence and meeting my family, talking to my mother. Strange as it may seem, he wrote some favourable things afterwards, such as, "I'd never have expected a Russian to invite me over on Sunday..."
Tell us about your team please. How many of you were there? What qualities were required of these individuals?
We had a really small bid committee, it is frightening to even think how small our team was compared to our competitors. Eighteen people, including the drivers. England had about 40 and Qatar over 100 for their 2022 bid. Practically everybody who was with us during the bidding process stayed until the end.

Project work is not for everyone, it requires certain qualities. This kind of work does not guarantee you any specific role in the future; it is rather to achieve a specific result, a means to an end.
Were there any pessimists around who did not believe in the success of your enterprise?
Yes, of course, there were some. But, as each day passed, the number of those who truly believed in our success increased. At some point, Vitaly Mutko and I had an appointment with Igor Shuvalov, who originally headed the Bid Committee and later the delegation. We convinced him first, then the Ministry of Finance, then some privately owned businesses.
Regarding the figures, if I understand correctly, 1.2 trillion [roubles] was originally allocated to organise the World Cup but, in the end, only 480 billion was spent…
This was the infrastructure development programme that we began to put together in December 2011. We assessed the whole scope of the infrastructure facilities and commitments. The original figure indeed amounted to 1.2 trillion roubles. Then we took a more reasonable approach to the issue, reduced the budget a bit, then some more, and eventually the figure was 678 billion. However, one has to remember the main driving force: it wasn't the cost of holding the World Cup per se. It was the cost of the infrastructure that would be needed sooner or later in any case.
Is there anything that you failed to do or that could have been done better?
There are a couple of things that spring to mind. The Ministry of Transport and the air carriers met us halfway and organised over 600 extra flights (and journeys). If we'd known in advance that demand would be so high, we'd have had more elaborate plans. There were also some episodes when there weren't enough tickets for certain destinations. And if we'd known in advance that the Fan Zones were going to be so successful, we would have provided more of them.
Which aspects of the organisation made you most proud?
Nikolskaya Street, naturally! The FAN ID and the visa-free entry to the country as well. Without all the support we had, we just couldn't have managed to issue such a huge number of visas for the citizens of certain countries. No one has ever done that before.
How many people found employment thanks to the World Cup?
The World Cup provided employment for 150,000-200,000 people annually over seven years: 1,500 employed by the Local Organising Committee, 17,000 volunteers, 18,000 city volunteers, plus 21,000 private security company employees. In total 230,000 people were involved in the accreditation system.
Now that the celebrations are over, what will you do next?
Success is a transitory notion; it exists for a moment and disappears as quickly as it comes. When I was asked as a child what I'd like to be, I'd answer: a pedestrian. I wanted to pass by everybody and speak to them. As it transpired, that's kind of what I'm doing.

I cannot do without work. I've always envied people who can afford to wind down. I begin to panic after some time.

Probably, the most interesting question that is troubling me now is how the World Cup will change our country. Or if it will at all. Now, that is a really interesting question. Football unites everybody, has tremendous power and can change the country in a more drastic fashion than any other sport. To what extent can that memorable summer change our nation? We're sure to see (and have already seen) positive change in the attitude to our country on the international arena. We are sure to get new investment in our economy. Maybe, international tourism will grow a lot. What else can we expect apart from that? There are subtle, almost metaphysical factors that one can only feel and appreciate when looking back after a certain time. The minds of the people, their perception of their place in the universe, the role of Russia in the world... maybe, if we meet in a year, we'll be able to witness changes in that regard that perhaps haven't happened just yet.
Alexey Sorokin dedicated nine years of his life to the 2018 FIFA World Cup. After making Russia's case as World Cup hosts, he then went about showing that THE RIGHT CHOICE HAD BEEN MADE
Alexey Sorokin certainly knows how to persuade people. He is an expert in making connections as well as a specialist in international relations, having received a diploma in precisely this field from the Moscow State Linguistic University in 1994. He is also a diplomat with six years' experience of working in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. This provided valuable training for the high-ranking sports official that Alexey Sorokin became in 2004, when he was appointed Deputy Director of Moscomsport. He put those skills to further use in 2007 as the main coordinator of the UEFA Champions League Final hosted by Moscow the following year. When he was appointed CEO of the Russian Football Union (RFU), Vitaly Mutko emphasised that Sorokin could bring relations between FIFA and UEFA to a significant new level. And that's exactly what happened with his negotiations for the hosting of the FIFA World Cup in Russia. However, before undertaking that ambitious task, Sorokin gained experience by partaking in Moscow's bid for the 2012 Summer Olympics and Sochi's bid for the 2014 Winter Games. The former, as we know, went to London but the success of the latter proved that the dream of bringing the World Cup to Russia was feasible, and Sorokin was thus appointed Head of Russia's 2018 Bid Committee. He proved more than equal to the task as he masterminded that famous ballot victory in December 2010. Then came an even bigger test: organising the competition itself. He could hardly have done a better job with its execution, thanks to a combination of diplomacy, style and expert business knowledge.