Security before safety
Only days before the World Cup kicks off, a question still remains: Will supporters be safe at the football stadiums?
64 matches will be played at 12 stadiums in Russia, and several other stadiums will host trainings. FIFA’s security requirements are indeed high. However, some reports show that safety measures were not given the necessary priority during the construction period. For instance, there have been at least three incidents of fires registered at the stadiums during construction in Nizhny Novgorod, Samara and Volgograd. FIFA had to admit the lack of security measures in a report written by the Human Rights Advisory Board.
The tragedy in Kemerovo as a warning
Russians were alarmed after the tragedy in Kemerovo on March 25, when around 60 people, including 41 children, died in a fire in a shopping centre and cinema. When the fire started, the fire alarm was switched off by security guards and the emergency exits were blocked due to anti-terror measures.
Gregory Shvedov, editor-in-chief of the independent website Caucasian Knot, is concerned with the imbalance between “security” and “safety”, where the former is given more priority than the latter:
“The contradiction between ‘security’ and ‘safety’ measures seems to be difficult to resolve. Should you open the doors in case of fire? Or should you keep the doors locked, preventing terror attacks? The problem is that both can occur and Russian authorities do not have the proper means to respond,” says Shvedov.
Corruption as a threat to security
The tragedy in Kemerovo has also underlined corruption as a threat to security. With a budget of approximately $12 billion, it goes without saying that the World Cup also implies possibilities for graft and corruption.
Several scandals have already been uncovered in the construction of World Cup related infrastructure. In Rostov, for instance, 25 lifts were built instead of 45, as originally planned. Aras Agalarov, a Russian billionaire and the man in charge of the stadiums in Rostov and in Kaliningrad, admitted that 20 lifts had disappeared. However, he did not see this as a problem: “people do not use the lifts at the stadiums,” he said.
In 2017 Russia ranked 135th out of 180 countries in Transparency International’s 25th annual Corruption Perceptions Index, published in February 2018.
This article was featured in the Handbook for Journalists covering the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
Did you know? FIFA's corruption report was released in June 2017 and shows how voters exploited the murky system, but still allowed Russia and Quatar to host the 2018 and 2022 tournament.