Russia spared no expense to host the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. The country spent roughly $50 billion, according to gunned-down Kremlin critic Boris Nemtsov. But it now looks like authorities wants to cut costs for the 2018 World Cup, and, to do so, one politician has suggested using prison labor to build the tournament’s facilities.
“It’ll help in the sense that there will be the opportunity to acquire building materials for a lower price, lower than there is currently on the market,” Alexander Khinshtein, a lawmaker from the pro-Putin United Russia party, told The Associated Press. “And apart from that it’ll make it possible to get prisoners into work, which is very positive.”
Deputy director of Russia’s Federal Penitentiary Service Anatoly Rudy has not commented specifically about using prisoners to build World Cup facilities, but has said he is open to ideas about how to employ the more than 870,000 prisoners scattered throughout the country.
“We’ve discussed how to bring business to the prison colonies that would provide normal wages and employment that, perhaps, an ordinary citizen would not take,” Rudy told the Russian paper Kommersant on Monday.
The salary for one month of hard labor on World Cup project might be 15,000 rubles, or $300 per month for prisoners, Khinshtein told the AP. That’s less than half the sum of the average salary for free working citizens, according to The Moscow Times, which cited the typical monthly salary for Russians as $780 per month last year.
One logistical concern, however, might stand in the way of dedicating prison labor to World Cup facility building and that’s location.
“We have not considered the possibility of transporting prisoners across the country (to work),” Rudy said. That could restrict the number of people able to work on World Cup projects. Host cities include: Moscow, St. Petersburg, Kaliningrad, Nizhny Novgorod, Sochi, Roston-on-Don, Vogograd, Samara, Ekaterinbug, Kazan and Saransk, all cities thar are located west of Siberia, where many of Russia’s largest prison camps are.
Besides logistics, however, humanitarian issues might also dog the idea. Per the Associated Press:
Russian prison labor schemes have faced allegations that prisoners are routinely underpaid or forced to work long hours. In 2013, the then-imprisoned Pussy Riot band member Nadezhda Tolokonnikova went on hunger strike in protest at working conditions in her prison camp.
Low-paid forced labor also might not be the best look for FIFA. The world soccer governing body is already dealing with criticism over its decision to hand the 2022 World Cup to Qatar, a country that groups such as Amnesty International have condemned for its treatment of World Cup workers. Although FIFA has shirked responsibility for worker safety, the organization would not benefit from increased bad press.
For Russia, though, the decision could come down to straight economics. Per the AP:
Russia’s move toward prison labor comes at a time when the World Cup budget of 637.6 billion rubles ($12.7 billion) is under pressure after the ruble dropped in value compared to last year, making imported materials more expensive. The ruble has recovered much of its lost value this year, but is still worth around a third less against the dollar than at the start of 2014, before international sanctions and a drop in the price of oil dented the Russian economy.
Formal legislation has not yet been submitted to Russian parliament, but with just over three years till kickoff, Khinshtein says he will submit a proposal soon.