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World Cup fans pump $1.5 billion into Russia’s economy

The increased tourist revenue gave Russia’s economy a major boost

Fans from all over the world invaded Russia for the 2018 FIFA World Cup, and celebrated their team’s performances profusely, causing some places to run out of booze and spending  reaching one and a half billion dollars. Russia welcomed the fans with various preparations including a spruced up infrastructure, spacious stadiums, and a raucous party atmosphere.

The Financial Times reports:

Russia is already enjoying a World Cup windfall of positive international PR and a surge in national pride after staging a widely praised tournament and seeing its team defy rock-bottom expectations. The event also gave its economy a welcome shot in the arm, the country’s top bank said on Thursday.

Visiting football fans spent $1.5bn during the one-month tournament, according to state-owned lender Sberbank.

Moscow had hoped to use the event to defy western nations that have sought to diplomatically isolate Russia following its 2014 annexation of Crimea and its alleged meddling in the 2016 US election.

The country welcomed foreign fans with visa-free travel and spruced-up host cities, and a notable relaxation of heavy-handed policing encouraged street parties and a carnival atmosphere, fuelling celebrations that saw bars run out of beer and cafes open all night.

Sberbank said in a research report that its network alone had serviced 899,000 foreign bank cards from 194 countries during the month-long tournament, with one Chinese bank card used to make purchases in 11 different cities.

Fast-food outlets and restaurants saw spending of Rbs6.2bn ($98m), Sberbank said, with hotels accounting for Rbs5bn — though the real figure was likely to be far higher given that accommodation was also bought in advance or through foreign travel agents.

Russia’s government has said that about 3m people visited the country for the tournament, suggesting an average spend of $500 per person. Most fans visited only one location — Sberbank said that 75 per cent of foreign cards were used in a single city.

Spending often related to teams’ performances, the bank said, with fans splurging the most — 36.5 per cent of the total — during the second week of the group stage, when all teams were still involved. Spending often peaked after crucial victories or when countries were sent out, as fans prepared to head home.

“Judging by their expenses, people from Middle Eastern and African countries left Russia rather early,” the bank said. No African or Middle Eastern nation made it through to the knockout stage.

“The map of expenses also shows the change of fan activity during days when teams had big wins and after they were knocked out. Croatians, for example, spent actively on 18 June [when their team scored its first win] and 9 July [as it prepared for the semi-final],” it added.

Nikolskaya Street in Moscow, a pedestrian avenue close to Red Square, where after-match parties were often centred, was a big drain on visitors’ wallets, Sberbank said.

The average bill on the street, which is packed with bars, restaurants and tourist shops, was Rbs8,800, with Rbs12.5m spent on June 18 alone. Overall, spending on the street was up 3.5 times from normal levels.

The World Cup was hosted following and in the midst of various scandals pinned on Russia, whether it was a doping scandal lodged against the Russian team hindering participation in the Winter Olympics in South Korea, allegations of election meddling in America’s 2016 Presidential elections, the Brexit referendum, Denmark’s election, the Catalonia referendum, Italian elections, among others, the suspected poisoning of an ex spy, Sergei Skripal and his daughter through the use of a banned nerve agent, with a new couple also being alleged to have suffered from exposure to the toxin which now boasts one casualty as of this writing, supporting the Syria government which is accused of conducting chemical weapons attacks on its own citizens.

By means of the bad press coming from Western media over these fabricated accusations and unsubstantiated allegations and economic sanctions, which were aimed to politically, economically, and socially isolate Russia from its neighbors and the world, however, the World Cup attendance, in a major way, demonstrated that these attempts, like the sanctions and diplomat expulsions, haven’t produced meaningful adverse results for Russia. Russia still comes out with stellar performance, and a better social reputation.

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