FIFA wraps up Russia visit, warns time of essence if 2018 World Cup bid is successful

FIFA wrapped up a four-day visit to Russia to assess its potential to host the 2018 or 2022 World Cup, and warned on Thursday that construction of stadiums and infrastructure must begin immediately if the bid is successful.

Except for the proposed venue for the final, Moscow's Luzhniki Stadium, Russia is vowing to construct all facilities from scratch. That includes up to 10 new stadiums as well as upgrades of airports and roads.

The inspection committee arrived Monday and visited the four potential host cities of St. Petersburg, Moscow, Kazan and Sochi.

The committee head Harold Mayne-Nicholls said Thursday the visit had been "excellent" but that "work would need to start immediately" if Russia wins, "to guarantee that everything will be in place right in time."

The world soccer governing body will announce the winner of the bid on Dec. 2.

For the 2018 or 2022 World Cup there are bids from England and the United States, as well as joint bids from Belgium and the Netherlands, and Spain and Portugal. Australia, Japan, South Korea and Qatar are applying for 2022 only.

The inspection team has already visited Japan, South Korea, Australia and Belgium-Netherlands. England is next on the itinerary, beginning on Monday.

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin told FIFA on Tuesday that Russia will waive visa requirements for participants if it wins hosting rights, an idea the delegation warmly received.

Russia has axed visa requirements for sports events before, allowing Manchester United and Chelsea fans at the 2008 Champions League final to show their tickets at passport control.

Putin also said the construction of world-class soccer stadiums will go ahead regardless of whether Russia is granted hosting rights, co-funded out of state coffers and private investment.

FIFA, meanwhile, also said the 2014 Sochi Games and the World University Games in Kazan in 2013 would prove ideal testing grounds for holding major sporting events.

"It would be the perfect opportunity for your country to prove to the world once again your organization skills on such a scale," Mayne-Nicholls said.

The delegation also pointed out improved government sports programs. About 1,000 artificial soccer fields were built around the country to encourage more youngsters to take up the game. Another goal is to increase the number of participants in indoor soccer or Futsal to 320,000.

"The implementation of these programs as well as the inauguration of a student league should guarantee for the next years that football stays by far the No. 1 sport in Russia. This kind of legacy is exactly what FIFA is looking for," Mayne-Nicholls said.