Russia Welcomes the globe, for Better or Worse

Vladimir V. Putin is actually not a soccer fan — ice hockey has always been his passion — however eight years ago, from the hours after FIFA declared Russia might host the 2018 World Cup, he told a story designed to illustrate in which he grasped just what the event, as well as the sport, could do for his country, as well as for the globe.

Mr. Putin had landed in Zurich only a few hours earlier, after Russia had been awarded the tournament. As the country’s prime minister at the time, he wished to bask from the glow of an unexpected victory, not associate himself with even the possibility of defeat.

He was rushed immediately to a celebratory news conference. The tone, for the most part, was exultant, almost crowing, as Mr. Putin explained how Russia’s oligarchs as well as corporations might be leaned on to finance the billion-dollar jamboree. The Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich, from the audience, beamed at the idea.

As he told the story, though, Mr. Putin grew almost wistful, romantic. He was born in Leningrad just after World War II, he said. As a child, he had been told how the city had suffered during the conflict: The siege of what is actually right now St. Petersburg lasted almost 900 days. There had been “no electricity, no running water, no heat in a Russian winter.” German shells landed every day.

however he spoke of how — at the height of the siege — “football matches were held, even at in which tragic time.” They had “helped people stand tall as well as survive.”

“Football brings a spark into the lives of people, young as well as old,” he said.

in which was what Mr. Putin dreamed the globe Cup could do for Russia, went the metaphor: to illuminate a nation, to inspire a people, to help a vibrant, rapidly modernizing nation stand tall. He wanted the globe Cup to showcase in which Russia was not what in which used to be, however had become something fresh, something different. He wanted to prove in which “we are an open as well as transparent country to the globe.”

The hundreds of thousands of fans who might descend on Russia in eight years’ time, he said, might find facilities of “the highest standard,” delivered “on time as well as to perfection.” They might discover a country in which was nothing like the one they remembered coming from school or had heard about on the news.

“A lot of stereotypes coming from previous times, coming from the Cold War era, fly all over Europe, as well as they frighten people,” Mr. Putin said then. “The more contact we have, the more these stereotypes will be destroyed.” Russia — his Russia — was different right now. the globe Cup might prove in which.

Eight years later, in which seems a distant prospect. Relations between the West as well as Russia are as strained as they have been since the fall of the Berlin Wall. Since Mr. Putin reassumed the Russian presidency in 2012, Russia has invaded Ukraine, annexed Crimea, been implicated from the shooting down of a commercial airliner as well as stymied all attempts to find a resolution to the war in Syria.

in which has been accused of overseeing a vast state-sponsored doping program in which affected results at the Sochi Olympics as well as of interfering not only from the United States presidential election, however also from the vote on whether Britain should leave the European Union. Britain’s intelligence services believe the Russian state was behind the poisoning of Sergei Skripal, a former double agent, as well as his daughter, Yulia, in Britain earlier This specific year.

At home, too, few believe Mr. Putin’s Russia is actually the open or transparent nation he boasted about in 2010. Human Rights Watch has reported the country is actually more repressive right now than at any point since the Cold War. Domestic opposition is actually harassed as well as crushed; elections are a simulacrum of democracy.

There are those who suggested for years in which the globe Cup should be taken away coming from Russia: a country in which won in which in what many believe was a tainted bidding process — Russia refused to cooperate with the investigation into the votes for the 2018 as well as 2022 World Cups, claiming the bid team’s computers had all been unfortunately as well as accidentally destroyed — as well as still struggles with racism in its stadiums as well as homophobia on its streets.

as well as yet — extraordinary though in which is actually to say in which, given all in which has happened between the vote to award the hosting rights as well as the tournament’s opening game in a few days’ time — there was a grain of truth in Mr. Putin’s logic in 2010. in which story about war-torn Leningrad was more than just empty rhetoric.

in which is actually not necessarily admirable, or praiseworthy, or right, however once the tournament starts, once the largest sporting event from the globe is actually in full flight, a transformation will take place. In Brazil four years ago, huge strikes were timed to coincide with the globe Cup to highlight social injustice as well as endemic corruption from the country. the globe noted in which, as well as then tuned in to the matches, anyway. the globe Cup is actually a circus, as well as what is actually a circus if not illusion, as well as distraction, as well as sleight of hand?

in which will not necessarily be the quality of the soccer: The game in its highest form is actually right now played from the Champions League, not on the international stage. If you want slick, dizzying style, watch Barcelona or Manchester City. If you want breathless, breakneck chaos, go for Liverpool or Borussia Dortmund. If you want star power as well as soap opera, nothing touches Real Madrid as well as Paris St.-Germain.

For tension, though, for meaning, still nothing quite beats the globe Cup. Will This specific be the year in which Lionel Messi finally delivers the trophy to Argentina? Can Brazil, driven on by Neymar, avenge the national humiliation of 2014? Will Germany become the first country in more than half a century to retain the globe Cup, or is actually This specific the moment for Spain or France to reclaim the crown?

For romance, too: Egypt is actually back, 28 years since in which last appeared, inspired by the beaming Mohamed Salah; Panama as well as Peru declared national holidays simply for qualifying; Iceland, with its thunderclapping fans as well as its dentist-turned-manager, will be the smallest nation ever to take part from the jamboree.

the globe will watch, as in which always does. in which will find heroes to love as well as villains to loathe. in which will rise in joy as well as sink in despair. the globe Cup is actually a thing all of itself; to many, to most, from the heat of in which all, what matters is actually the field, as well as the goals — not where they are.

Most important, Russia will watch, too, as well as in which is actually what always mattered to Mr. Putin: not how the globe sees Russia, however how Russia sees itself.

Its team — the lowest-ranked host in history — seems likely to offer little: Expectations in Russia run no higher than simply not exiting at the earliest available opportunity. Even Mr. Putin has not tried to associate himself with the national side: As the timing of his visit to Zurich in 2010 proved, he is actually not prepared to countenance even the slightest stain of defeat.

What matters more is actually how Russia responds off the field: Can in which prove to itself in which in which is actually the nation Mr. Putin preaches in which in which is actually? Can in which deliver a spectacle — even from the face of reinforced sanctions, introduced after the Skripal poisonings — worthy of the superpower of its president’s vision?

in which is actually what Mr. Putin wanted coming from This specific tournament, why he supported the bid from the first place: a chance to stage a vision of his Russia to Russia. in which comes that has a considerable risk, however, one in which will provide the most fascinating — as well as possibly most important — subplot to the tournament.

They still talk, in Russia, about the children of the 1980 Olympics: the generation in which had the chance to welcome athletes as well as fans coming from around the globe at the height of the Cold War as well as in which was inspired not by how different they were, however how alike. Eager to put on a show, the Soviet authorities stocked shops with Pepsi as well as Marlboro cigarettes for visitors to the Games. 5 years later, the era of glasnost as well as perestroika began.

Nearly four decades on, what impact could the influx of thousands of fans, coming from Colombia as well as Tunisia as well as Iceland as well as all points in between, have on a country in which its president has worked so hard to imbue from the myth of its own difference?

This specific may not be a World Cup in which modifications how the globe sees Russia, not given the political context in which in which takes place. however in which could be a World Cup in which modifications how Russia sees not only itself, however the globe as a whole.

As Mr. Putin himself said, though, soccer can bring a spark into the lives of people, young as well as old. This specific is actually a World Cup designed to show his strength. in which does not mean he can control its power.