Rus­sia has point to prove at World Cup

$13bn spent on host­ing foot­ball’s show­piece, the most im­por­tant event in the coun­try since the 1980 Moscow Sum­mer Olympics

Afro Voice (Western Cape) - - Free State News -

THE World Cup kicked off in Rus­sia yes­ter­day as the host na­tion took on Saudi Ara­bia in front of 80 000 peo­ple in Moscow af­ter Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin of­fi­cially de­clared the tour­na­ment open.

Rus­sia is spend­ing more than $13bn (R172bn) on host­ing foot­ball’s show­piece, the most im­por­tant event in the coun­try since the 1980 Moscow Sum­mer Olympics.

Min­utes be­fore the game started in the Luzh­niki Sta­dium in Moscow, Putin said: “I con­grat­u­late all of you at the start of the most im­por­tant cham­pi­onship in the world.”

The buildup has been dogged by con­tro­versy and diplo­matic scan­dals and has shone a light on the chal­lenges fac­ing Putin’s Rus­sia.

On the day of the cur­tain raiser, Rus­sia freed the main op­po­si­tion fig­ure to Putin, Alexei Navalny, from jail af­ter he had served a 30-day sen­tence for or­gan­is­ing an il­le­gal protest.

Ex­cite­ment has been steadily build­ing in Moscow, with thou­sands of Saudi fans in green and white ar­riv­ing in the city for the match.

Bri­tish pop star Rob­bie Wil­liams per­formed at the open­ing cer­e­mony at the Luzh­niki, which will also host the fi­nal on July 15.

The money lav­ished on the tour­na­ment will boost Putin’s al­ready sky­ high pres­tige at home by giv­ing many of the 11 host cities their first facelifts in gen­er­a­tions.

Cities such as Saransk were sleepy out­posts with de­cay­ing build­ings un­til the World Cup re­con­struc­tion put them firmly in the 21st cen­tury.

The tour­na­ment also of­fers Putin a chance to pro­ject Rus­sia as a global player that is ac­cepted and re­spected even while be­ing at odds with the US.

Putin hopes the most­watched event on the planet pro­vides Rus­sia with the “soft power” needed to cap­ture a scep­ti­cal world’s hearts and minds.

Rus­sian au­thor­i­ties have gone to great lengths to en­sure noth­ing soils the coun­try’s im­age.

The bloody beat­ing English fans took from nearly 200 Rus­sian thugs at Euro 2016 in France has in­flu­enced prepa­ra­tions as much as any diplo­matic dis­pute.

Neo-Nazi hooli­gans who or­gan­ise mass fights in forests and chant racist slurs at play­ers have been a fea­ture of Rus­sian sta­di­ums for years.

The anti-dis­crim­i­na­tion net­work Fare said Rus­sia’s foot­ball fed­er­a­tion was mak­ing mat­ters worse by pun­ish­ing those who re­acted to racist abuse “while ig­nor­ing the per­pe­tra­tors”.

Se­cu­rity ser­vices have ei­ther locked up or re­stricted the move­ment of hun­dreds to make sure they do noth­ing to tar­nish Rus­sia’s im­age. – AFP

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