No World Cup in history was so derided before a single player took to the pitch as was Russia’s 2018 World Cup. With some western politicians suggesting the event should be moved to another country or cancelled outright and with the UK leadership in particular openly boycotting the event, those who expected the worst have been inexorably disappointed.
Last night, FIFA President Gianni Infantino took to the stage at Moscow’s Bolshoi Theatre where he once again expressed his view that the 2018 Russian World Cup was the best that has ever been staged. With Infantino leading a multi-national crowd of dignitaries in chants of ‘Ru-ssi-a…Ru-ssi-a‘ it became clear that dignitaries, players and ordinary fans from around the world who attended the tournament are representative of a genuine quorum of world opinion that looks to Russia in a spirit of joy and goodwill. This is also reflected in the wider geopolitical situation where countries as diverse as China and Japan, Pakistan and India, Vietnam and The Philippines, Egypt and Sudan, South Africa and Brazil, Italy and Austria, Israel and Palestine, Syria and Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia, all look to Russia as a partner rather than a rival or adversary.
In this sense, the political opinions of those in parts of western and central Europe as well as the United States were always isolated both when it comes to the World Cup and in respect of wider geopolitical realities. Indeed, it was the politicisation of sport which was the underlying motivation underscoring the disparaging black propaganda from certain nations regarding Russia’s alleged inability to host international football’s most important month long tournament that. It was this devious attempt to politicise sport that remained at the root of antagonism towards Russia throughout the World Cup, which at all times was spewed from a consistently small but vocal set of nations and politicians.
For fans from all nations, including from western Europe – Russia’s well organised, safe and exciting event helped to demonstrate that their domestic media and in many cases the political class had projected their own prejudices onto Russia and in so doing told outright lies about the country’s ability to welcome fans from around the world.
As President Putin stated during his remarks at the Bolshoi, prejudices have been shattered while those who always wanted to come to Russia but never took the time to do so, got to see first hand that a civilisation that has achieved supreme levels of greatness in the fields of sport, science, literature, music, poetry, opera, dance and of course great victories on the battlefield including the crushing of fascism on 9 May 1945, is a nation that continues to look to the future while preserving its cherished cultural characteristics that thousands of fans got to partake in, all while watching some of the most exciting football of any World Cup.
Those who thought they’d be greeted with indifference were embraced by warm hospitality, those who thought they’d be subject to outrageous claims of violence instead found an atmosphere that was both family friendly and one which catered to the every need of excitement hungry football fans. Those who were worried about efficiency found modern airports, beautiful metro systems, and user friendly buses that brought them to matches across many of Russia’s great cities and regions without a hint of inconvenience.
The Russophobic shrieks of the likes of Hillary Clinton and Theresa May were drowned up both by the sweeping melodies of Tchaikovsky whose music inaugurated the World Cup and by the cheers of football supporters from Moscow to Sochi – from Samara to Kaliningrad and beyond.
What the majority of the world already knew is now known to all who attended or watched the matches and cultural events surrounding the World Cup. In an age where certain governments continue to conduct relations with Russia based on a combination of insincerity, racism and childish mistrust – the overwhelmingly positive magnitude of the 2018 World Cup has proved that success is indeed the best revenge.