Even though the FIFA World Cup in Russia is far from over, one can still examine the preliminary results of this major sports event. For sure, there’s been a number of those who would try to pierce the veil of time in a bid to name the team that will prevail, such as the octopus Paul from the Oberhausen aquarium in German, Mystic Marcus the pig from the town of Hedge, a baby meerkat from the zoo in England’s Drayton Manor in Staffordshire, and several others. Some of those fortune-tellers have already paid an enormous price for their false prophecies, such as the giant octopus Rabio, who, according to The Telegraph, was eaten on July 2 after his failed attempt to predict the outcome of a match between the national teams of Japan and Belgium.
Nevertheless, the immediate results can already be summarized.
It’s curious that the first few days of the FIFA World Cup were marked by dubious initiatives both in the field and in the tribunes. Sexism, racism, homophobia… And the list goes on, argues Le Monde.
Let’s take a look back to the pre-World Cup days, when a number of British media sources tried to intimidate their fans in an attempt to have them abandon all aspirations of visiting Russia and instead staying home. Those sources ran stories urging fans to stay away from Russia, suggesting they wouldn’t be safe and that racism was rampant in Moscow and a number of other major Russian cities. However, those sources were forced to present apologies to their readers for their outright Russophobic publications after the arrival of British football fans to Moscow and a number of major Russia’s cities.
A well-known British comedian, Tom Rosenthal, debunked the myths about aggressive Russians and urged his fellow Brits to come and enjoy the World Cup in his opinion piece for the Guardian titled “Come to Russia and Feel the Love”.
In a similar vein, Russia and its residents were covered by The Times, even though it seemed that it wasn’t too happy to note that most people in Russia are friendly and always willing to lend a hand to those who found themselves in need of assistance.
The Independent would take it a step further, noting that England fans were happy to bond with Russians over vodka, chanting “Oh-o-oh-England’s gone to Russia, oh-o-oh-drinking-all-the-vodka.”
As it’s been noted by the sitting president of FIFA, Gianni Infantino that the World Cup in Russia is changing the perception of the country by the international community, especially in the West.
Canada’s CBC would also note that the World Cup turned out to be a mixing of cultures, with its boisterous rallies, spontaneous parties and absence of ubiquitous police attempting to control everything, making this particular sports event unique.
According to the Frankfurter Rundscha, the unhindered singing and dancing of sports fans from Latin America and Africa has turned the FIFA World Cup in Russia into an international cultural festival.
The Swiss Neue Zürcher Zeitung argues that when this beautiful vacation of peace and friendship comes to a close, thousands of foreign football fans will take their admiration of Russia‘s hospitality home, across all continents, effectively dispelling all accusations of Russia being some sort of dark empire or dystopian police state. The world is about to learn that’s it’s a free and happy state, which makes the Kremlin the ultimate winner, no matter who takes the cup in the end.
The USA Today argues that Russian President Vladimir Putin, despite all attempts to steal the event, had won the ultimate reward of the FIFA World Cup – the admiration of people from across the globe.
It’s been further added that the World Cup has raised Putin’s geopolitical profile. In a meeting with the Russian President in Moscow, US national security adviser John Bolton complimented Putin, telling him he was eager to learn “how you handled the World Cup so successfully, among other things.” And that’s much more than just a diplomatic nicety.
But the FIFA World Cup has become a veritable breakthrough not only for the public perception of Russia around the world. As the German DieWelt notes, it turned out to be a true revolution for Iranian women. Many of them could attend a football stadium for the first time in their lives. In Iran itself, the law still forbids women from visiting such events, but now there is a hope that they will not be forced to dress in men’s clothes in order to enjoy a sports match.
The Wall Street Journal seems to be amazed by the fact of how amazingly smooth the whole event has gone, in spite of well over a million foreign guests arriving to Russia, which, according to last year’s poll by the Gallup Institute, is perceived positively by no more than 10% of the people around the globe. This FIFA World Cup dislodged all stereotypes that most foreign visitors would have about Russia, as they were able to see firsthand the “first world”, impeccable organization and hospitality of the local people.
Yes, football heavyweights like Germany, Spain, Portugal and Argentina were eliminated early on in the event. But each of these teams had their own reasons. The Spanish team has struck a deadly blow in its own heart by allowing internal disruption to tear it apart, while there was an obvious lack of will to re-imagine the game the German team had been showing up until the event.
The degree of disappointment of the teams that were eliminated from the competition relied heavily on the quality of the game that a team showed and its results, with some fans feeling completely brokenhearted.
Judging by the discussions across social networks and a number of statements made by political figures, the Arab world has had the most indignation over the level shown by individual Arab teams that were eliminated early. The FIFA World Cup in Russia has set a record for the number of Arab world nations participating in the event. A total of four teams qualified for the tournament, but, unfortunately, none of them passed the group stage. The unimpressive game demonstrated by the Arabs in Russia may be a reflection of the constant conflicts and humanitarian disasters that have befallen the Middle East in recent years.
It is necessary to understand that the FIFA World Cup in Qatar, scheduled for 2022, is going to be a true test of Arab sportsmanship and unity. For well over a year a true political crisis has been raging all around this tiny country and it seems that a number of its former allies are determined to disrupt Qatar’s plans to host the event at the same level that was shown by its predecessors, including Russia.
However, this major event for all sports fans keeps rolling on, and it’s way to early to set the score on both the field and the political scoreboard.
Grete Mautner is an independent researcher and journalist from Germany, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook.”