Three years on from hosting the 2014 Winter Olympics, the southern Russian resort of Sochi is now being eyed by several potential World Cup 2018 teams as a sunny seaside base for the tournament. RT Sport went to investigate why.
Sitting on the coast of the Black Sea, framed by snow-covered mountains and hosting sports traditionally only seen in the coldest conditions, Sochi perhaps represented a quintessential Russian location when hosting the 2014 Winter Olympics.
Exactly 10 years ago, it was announced as the host of the 2014 Winter Olympics, beating off competition from Pyeongchang in South Korea and Salzburg in Austria in 2007.
Three years on from successfully holding the 2014 Games, the city conveys an altogether different image. Its beaches, balmy atmosphere and modern infrastructure are now noticeably more visible in the summer sun, and have seen Sochi become a hit among world football’s elite.
It is easy to see why Sochi has found favor with prospective 2018 World Cup teams. The temperature climbs to 30 degrees Celsius in the months of June and July, when the tournament will be held, and its sports training facilities remain some of the best in the world.
This summer, Sochi was one of four host cities at the 2017 FIFA Confederations Cup, a tournament seen as a dress rehearsal for the 2018 FIFA World Cup, also to be held in Russia.
Eventual Confed Cup winners and current world champions Germany played in three of the four games in the resort, their manager Joachim Low being so impressed by the Sochi climate and infrastructure that he requested a World Cup base there next year.
It appears Low is not alone in his admiration; Mark Ogden of ESPN FC, who covered the tournament, reported that Moscow is seen as too congested to navigate, although the Russian capital has 18 team bases registered by FIFA.
Currently a total 14 potential teams at next year’s World Cup have made a request to FIFA to be based in Sochi during the tournament. However, with only Swissotel Kamelia and Hyatt Regency Hotel shortlisted by FIFA as official team bases, there may be big competition.
"Basically the climate is great, everything is pretty localized in terms of training camp and stadium. The hotels are good and there are no traffic problems like Moscow. Climate is key," Ogden told RT Sport.
Sochi. Another Russia 2018 venue that will be a pleasant surprise to many... pic.twitter.com/kjYkliyksu— Mark Ogden (@MarkOgden_) June 29, 2017
Despite FIFA refusing to officially name the nations from which they received requests to be based in Sochi, it is understood the England national team are also keen to establish their camp in the city.
When Sochi was announced as the 2014 Winter Olympic Games host city, work began to transform the coastal resort into a sporting metropolis. That included building a main Olympic village, two ice hockey arenas, two skating centers, a curling center as well as an international broadcasting center.
Sochi’s standout stadium came to be Fisht, lying a short jaunt from the beach in nearby Adler, close to the Abkhazian border. Eventually costing $779 million to construct, Fisht Olympic Stadium provided center stage for the 2014 Games.
Originally built as an enclosed stadium, Fisht was reopened in 2016 as an open-air football ground. It now holds just shy of 48,000 fans, with the most recent crowd seeing Germany cruise past Mexico 4-1 to book a place in the Confed Cup final against Chile.
By all accounts, Sochi, which in summer teems with tourists from every corner of Russia and further afield, has kept intact its intended sporting legacy.
The World Cup next year will be the fourth major sporting event Sochi has played host to in as many years, having already seen the Winter Olympics, the Paralympics and the Confederations Cup, as well as hosting the Russian Grand Prix every year from 2014 until at least 2020.
The transformation of Sochi from seaside Russian getaway to sports mecca has seen it become the center of attention ahead of one of the biggest moments in Russia’s sporting history.
By Danny Armstrong for RT Sport