Straight from the stands

Australian Four Four Two - - CONTENTS - You can fol­low me or send me a tweet on @Kev­inAirs442 Kevin Airs Ed­i­tor

I was wrong. Rus­sia was amaz­ing. Ut­terly, ut­terly amaz­ing. Per­haps it was the low ex­pec­ta­tions, maybe it was the stereo­types and cliches I had un­wit­tingly bought into. But Rus­sia was pretty much noth­ing like what I had primed my­self for.

Let’s get this out the way, right at the be­gin­ning though. Po­lit­i­cally, Rus­sia still sucks. Its record on hu­man rights is ap­palling, as is its mur­der­ous for­eign pol­icy. Its views on same sex re­la­tion­ships and racism are ar­chaic and out­ra­geous. It iso­lates and vil­i­fies others who stray from its con­cept of “nor­mal”, even down to largely ig­nor­ing the needs of the dis­abled. And the fact the only beg­gars I saw were very frail old women makes me won­der what hap­pened to its fun­da­men­tal be­liefs that once sparked a revo­lu­tion. That said though, as we of­ten know only too well in Aus­tralia, a na­tion’s govern­ment does not equate to its peo­ple – and the peo­ple of Rus­sia were a con­stant sur­prise: warm, po­lite, help­ful and cu­ri­ous. Be­ing based Kazan was prob­a­bly a help. The city is a mul­ti­cul­tural melt­ing pot of Is­lam and Chris­tian­ity, city and coun­try, old and new. In a month, of­ten walk­ing long dis­tances at all times of the day and night, I never once felt in any danger. Not once. Although, given Kazan shipped in 17,000 ex­tra cops, for a city of 1.2m, that’s per­haps not a sur­prise... And then there was the never-end­ing cav­al­cade of fans that rolled through Kazan as a host city. French, Span­ish, Ger­man, Pol­ish, Colom­bian, Ar­gen­tinian, Ira­nian, Korean and of course, the Aussies. Ev­ery night was party night. Within hours of arriving home, I was al­ready miss­ing that abil­ity to lit­er­ally cross my doorstep and in­stantly join a 24/7 street party in the cen­tre of Kazan. All day, ev­ery day...and when dawn breaks at 2am, the days are long, nights are short and the par­ty­ing is hard! Fi­nally though there was the foot­ball. It’s a long time since the World Cup has thrown up such con­sis­tent sur­prises, twists and turns. It’s a shame Aus­tralia could not get out of the group as any­thing was pos­si­ble there­after – but other teams stepped up to pro­vide the gi­ant-killing sen­sa­tions on our be­half. As I write, the fi­nal is still wide open. What­ever the out­come though, Rus­sia 2018 will go down as one of the best World Cups ever. And I never thought I’d ever type that...

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