How much could Russia lose from FIFA scandal?

Russia has reacted with characteristic fury over speculation that the corruption investigation into FIFA could cost it the right to host the World Cup in 2018. And with good reason -- it stands to lose a lot.

Russia's winning bid to host the World Cup in 2018 is looking increasingly shaky following the widespread charges of endemic corruption against top officials and executives within FIFA, including fraud, bribery and money laundering.

High-ranking international soccer officials were arrested early Wednesday as part of a U.S. investigation into corruption at the sport's governing body. Meanwhile, a separate Swiss investigation was also launched in relation to the 2018 and 2022 World Cup bids – won by Russia and Qatar, respectively.

Russia was quick to say it would both cooperate with the investigations, while condemning them at the same time. The Russian Foreign Ministry said the arrests of officials appeared to be an illegal attempt by the U.S. to impose its laws on foreign states.

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Meanwhile on Thursday, President Vladimir Putin echoed those sentiments and said the arrests look "very strange," Reuters reported. Putin also said the U.S. investigation was the latest attempt to stop FIFA's President Sepp Blatter, from being re-elected at FIFA's awkwardly-timed presidential elections on Friday – and Russia from holding the World Cup in 2018.

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin arrives to attend a press conference in Zurich on December 2, 2010 after Russia was chosen to host the 2018 World Cup.
Fabrice Coffrini | AFP | Getty Images
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin arrives to attend a press conference in Zurich on December 2, 2010 after Russia was chosen to host the 2018 World Cup.

Still, the extent of the information that has been given to Russia over the investigation remains a mystery.

Alexei Tsygankov, deputy director of the Russian sports ministry's international department, told CNBC Thursday that the ministry was still in the dark as to the details of the accusations or investigations.

"We have no details about the situation," he told CNBC in a phone interview. Russian Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko was still in Zurich and, as far as Russia was concerned, the World Cup was still going ahead as planned.

"Preparation for the Cup is going according to plan and we have no doubt that the cup will be held in time," he said.

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Responding to the charges on Wednesday, FIFA's Director of Communications, Walter De Gregorio, said the developments would not lead to a re-run of the 2018 and 2022 World Cup votes but also acknowledged that that stance could change.

Russia 2018

The head of the "Russia 2018" organizing committee, Alexei Sorokin, told Sky Sports News Wednesday that he was not "afraid" about the criminal investigation into the his country's 2018 World Cup bid and that Russia had already cooperated with FIFA's internal investigation into corruption headed by Michael Garcia.

"We repeatedly said the process was transparent and that we're not concerned with any investigations. It's just strange there's a chance to go through the same thing again, where everything was seemingly closed," he remarked.

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Asked if he expected a re-vote, he said: "No, because we are so deep in the preparation, we've done so much. Our government, our country, has done so much already for the preparation of an excellent World Cup, I don't even want to discuss it with anyone."

When contacted by CNBC for further comment, no one at the Russia 2018 Local Organising Committee was available.

Teething troubles

That Russia could even lose the Cup is inconceivable for many in Russia, not least of all the head of the organizing committee, Sorokin.

The global competition is seen as a way of galvanizing positive global attention on – and investment in -- a country that going through a crisis of its own, albeit an economic rather than sporting one.

However, Russia could have easily underestimated the cost of hosting the Cup too, according to Dr Steve McCabe, economy expert at Birmingham City University's Business School.

"When Russia won the honor of holding the games in 2010 the then-Prime Minister Vladimir Putin suggested it would cost $10 billion," he told CNBC Thursday. "However, some analysts suggest that holding the cost of holding games could be as high as $50 billion. If the actual cost is somewhere in between – say $30 billion – this means that any government winning a World Cup bid faces a huge financial headache. And let's not forget that Russia is an economy that has been severely undermined in recently."

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Russia has been largely isolated on a political and economic level over the last year for its annexation of Crimea and role in the conflict in east Ukraine which prompted the west to impose sanctions on the country.

Against a backdrop of the falling ruble and rising costs, the Russian government said earlier this week that its World Cup budget would be cut by 3.6 billion rubles ($71 milion) to 660.5 billion rubles ($13.2 billion). The savings were to come from cutting spending on improving the competition's power supply. Another controversial measure was a proposal by the Russian authorities to use prison labor to help prepare for the tournament.

McCabe believed it was unlikely that Russia would be stripped of its right to host the competition. "The infrastructure works are too far advanced and the upheaval that would be caused would be far too great for FIFA to realistically consider," he said.

Nation-building

Despite the heady costs of hosting a World Cup, the competition tends to bring a much-needed economic boost to host countries in terms of tourism and investment.

Russia has already said it would waive its difficult visa requirements before and during the Cup but whether it can really open itself up to investment and visitors is yet to be seen, and the chances look poor if international relations with Russia continue to sour.

Brazil, the 2014 hosts of the World Cup (incidentally, a country whose World Cup bidding process is also under investigation) could offer a warning to Russia not to wish for too much, however, as its tourism numbers and longed-for boom have so far failed to materialize.

Russian President Vladimir Putin is all too aware of the potential boost the Cup could bring, saying in December that the competition – and the investment it requires -- could reinvigorate the economy, and the nation besides.

"Speaking of the World Cup — yes, it is expensive," said the Russian Head of State during a press conference,"(But) if we want to live longer, if we want our people to be healthy and go to skating rinks instead of liquor shops, then skating rinks must be available."

- By CNBC's Holly Ellyatt, follow her on Twitter @HollyEllyatt. Follow us on Twitter: @CNBCWorld