Tri­umph of the will 2018

The in­flu­ence of the World Cup on Rus­sia's im­age

The Ukrainian Week - - CONTENTS - Ivan Ver­byt­skiy

The foot­ball World Cup in Rus­sia is over. It ended sym­bol­i­cally: the rain forced lazy Euro­peans who had been watch­ing the foot­ball through rose-tinted glasses and ad­mir­ing Putin's fake glitz to see the real Rus­sia for at least one mo­ment. The czar was shel­tered un­der an um­brella, while the other guests of hon­our — headed by the Pres­i­dents of France, Croa­tia and FIFA — were ig­nored. In the end, judg­ing by their be­hav­iour, none of the for­eign dig­ni­taries even dared to take of­fence af­ter be­ing on the re­ceiv­ing end of so many syco­phan­tic over­tures. The world closed its eyes and be­lieved in "an­other Rus­sia", de­spite Syria, Ukraine and the dozens of Ukrainian pris­on­ers il­le­gally held in Rus­sian tor­ture cham­bers.

Al­though we can gen­er­ally say that Putin dis­played Olympic no­bil­ity dur­ing his foot­balling ben­e­fit event. This time, he did not rat­tle his sabre dur­ing the tour­na­ment, as was the case on 08.08.08, when the Olympics started in Beijing and Rus­sian boots en­tered Ge­or­gia. A peace­ful Putin was pre­sented to the gen­eral pub­lic in their rose-tinted glasses. One who was sung an African ode by the newly minted world cham­pi­ons from France in the dress­ing room right af­ter the fi­nal whis­tle.


Nev­er­the­less, you can talk about "peace­ful Putin" to the moth­ers of Rus­lan Bahlyk from Tros­tianets, Sumy Re­gion, and Ihor Petrov from Ru­bizhne, Luhansk Re­gion — 20-year-old lads who died along­side 11 other Ukrainian sol­diers pro­tect­ing our coun­try dur­ing the "fes­ti­val of foot­ball". The world paid no at­ten­tion to this. It seems that the most ex­pen­sive foot­ball tour­na­ment in his­tory was con­ceived pre­cisely for the sake of one phrase heard from the mouth of FIFA pres­i­dent Gianni In­fantino: "Rus­sia has changed its at­ti­tude to­wards it­self. Thou­sands — hun­dreds of thou­sands — of peo­ple vis­ited, and they came to beau­ti­ful, friendly cities, to peo­ple who are ready to show the whole world that the stereo­types about Rus­sia are wrong."

He has al­ready called this tour­na­ment the best in his­tory. Tri­umph of the Will 2018 has come to pass. Al­most as suc­cess­fully as the 1936 ver­sion in Ber­lin. The one difference was that no one gave a Nazi salute to the cur­rent tyrant. Al­though the ver­bal praise per­haps more than re­placed ges­tures "from the heart to the sun".

Over the 32 days, the hol­i­day at­mos­phere was only in­ter­rupted once — when Croa­tia foot­baller Do­magoj Vida shouted "Glory to Ukraine" on cam­era af­ter de­feat­ing the Rus­sians in the quar­ter­fi­nal. Team coach Ogn­jen Vukojević de­voted the vic­tory to our coun­try. Sub­se­quently, the en­tire wrath of Putin's ag­it­prop ma­chine was turned on the Croats. It got to the point that, un­der pres­sure from Rus­sia, FIFA al­most stopped Vida from play­ing in the semi-fi­nal against the English. It all ended with a be­hind-the-scenes ar­range­ment, af­ter which Vukojević was ousted from the team and Vida apol­o­gised on a Rus­sian fed­eral TV chan­nel like a fail­ing school­boy at the black­board fol­low­ing the semi-fi­nal vic­tory.

Sub­se­quent events showed that the dis­missal of Vukojević was noth­ing more than a smoke­screen. Ogn­jen won a sil­ver medal as a mem­ber of the se­cond-placed team and on re­turn­ing home, when nearly all of Za­greb came out to wel­come their tri­umphant com­pa­tri­ots, he sat next to Croa­t­ian Foot­ball Fed­er­a­tion pres­i­dent Da­vor Šuker on the open-top bus. The Croats de­cided not to poke the bear and peace­fully play out the tour­na­ment, al­though there are grounds to say that the vin­dic­tive FIFA, which feeds on Gazprom money, took re­venge on them. The first two goals scored by the French against Daniel Subašić dur­ing the fi­nal came in ques­tion­able cir­cum­stances. At least My­roslav Stu­par, the only Ukrainian ref­eree to have of­fi­ci­ated dur­ing the knock­out phases of the World Cup in 1982, claims that the free kick that led to the first goal should not have been awarded and that the penalty con­verted by An­toine Griez­mann was not a foul. Two goals in the fi­nal... you have to agree that is a lit­tle too much.

But if we take a step back and look at the sit­u­a­tion through the eyes of or­di­nary Euro­peans or Latin Amer­i­cans who do not take an in­ter­est in the sit­u­a­tion in Ukraine and Syria and do not want to re­mem­ber the Malaysian air­liner shot down in the sum­mer of 2014, what was dis­played on the sur­face re­ally was at­trac­tive. The Rus­sians made sure that the places vis­ited by tourists were spot­less, cleaned the streets of home­less peo­ple and the fa­cades of build­ings that could not be ren­o­vated were cov­ered with ban­ners. The ap­par­ently un­con­trolled Rus­sian ul­tras that fought bloody bat­tles with the English in Mar­seilles two years ago were silent all month. Not a peep was heard from them. It was a miracle: the Rus­sian cham­pi­onship was per­haps the first in his­tory dur­ing which no clashes be­tween fans were recorded.

There were only two in­ci­dents that the FSB could not con­trol: the afore­men­tioned scan­dal in­volv­ing Vida & Vukojević and the pitch in­va­sion by ac­tivists from the Pussy Riot movement dressed in po­lice uni­forms dur­ing the fi­nal. Of course, the of­fend­ers were de­tained and a video clip of the in­ter­ro­ga­tion was "leaked" on the in­ter­net. The voice of a harsh "chief" can be heard on it, re­gret­ting that it is not 1937 and he can­not pun­ish these ter­ri­ble crim­i­nals in the way that they de­serve.

As for no­tice­able neg­a­tive opin­ions about the Rus­sian World Cup, the words of Korean TV star Chan Gong Chang are all that can be sin­gled out. "Ev­ery­one is sort of an­gry there," he said on re­turn­ing from Rus­sia. "The Rus­sians do not like ‘slanty-eyed’ Asians. You say to some­one, ‘Ex­cuse me...’ And in re­sponse, ‘What do you want?!’. It's like that ev­ery­where. Ev­ery day I was stopped by po­lice one or two times: 'Are you a ter­ror­ist?' Maybe the car looks sus­pi­cious to them. I an­swer that, of course, I'm not a ter­ror­ist, but they say, ‘Okay, open the car. Do you have a gun? Drugs? Give us the money'.”

The Euro­pean me­dia (whether French, English or Span­ish) glit­tered with flat­tery like "so good that it is hard to fault". These

im­pres­sions were am­pli­fied by the com­ments of fa­mous foot­ball play­ers, who of­fi­cials of the Putin regime pam­pered, fed, wa­tered and ac­com­mo­dated like nowhere else in the world. Ar­gen­tine Diego Maradona, the best foot­baller in the world in the 1980s, was so blown away by the re­cep­tion that he showed his mid­dle fin­gers to TV cam­eras when his coun­try scored and was later un­able to leave the stands with­out as­sis­tance. Of course, it would be a sin for these com­rades to com­plain about Rus­sia. Es­pe­cially when their thoughts go no fur­ther than their ba­sic phys­i­cal needs.

In fact, many African or Latin Amer­i­can fans also owe their great love for Rus­sia to the sat­is­fac­tion of an­i­mal in­stincts. They were struck by the fact that "Natashas" were all over them be­fore they could even start flirt­ing prop­erly. The Mex­i­cans posted dozens of videos and pho­tos on so­cial me­dia of naked Rus­sian women walk­ing around near the sta­dium in Ros­tov wear­ing only foot­ball socks.

From a purely foot­balling point of view, the 2018 World Cup will be re­mem­bered for the early fail­ure of many recog­nised favourites. For ex­am­ple, 2014 world cham­pi­ons Ger­many did not even man­age to get out of the group. Un­for­tu­nately, Ukrainian For­eign Min­is­ter Pavlo Klimkin all but hailed this event as a diplo­matic vic­tory. "I read about the loss of the Ger­man na­tional team in the news," he wrote on Twit­ter. "We will have new world cham­pi­ons. But at least no more Ger­man politi­cians will visit the World Cup in the Rus­sian Fed­er­a­tion. I wish the Bun­desteam new vic­to­ries out­side the Rus­sian Fed­er­a­tion. For some rea­son, they have no luck there."

It is a pity that our coun­try's chief diplo­mat, like our foot­ball of­fi­cials, did not speak out when it would have been worth­while. Hav­ing used the Vida-Vukojević in­ci­dent to pro­mote them­selves, high-rank­ing Ukrainian of­fi­cials did not bother to re­act to the Rus­sian flags with names of cities oc­cu­pied by the Rus­sian Fed­er­a­tion in Crimea that ap­peared at sta­di­ums host­ing the tour­na­ment. Which is a shame, be­cause if would have been easy to point out FIFA's dou­ble stan­dards. As we know, the Ukrainian na­tional team played its first qual­i­fier for this World Cup be­hind closed doors. That was a pun­ish­ment for the red and black flags seen at the Lviv Arena in au­tumn 2013. This, as well as na­tion­al­ist sym­bol­ism in the Croa­t­ian stands dur­ing World Cup 2018, caught the at­ten­tion of FIFA of­fi­cials, who close their eyes to the be­hav­iour of a coun­try that ne­glects all the norms of in­ter­na­tional law.

In the end, it was prob­a­bly the strong­est all-round foot­balling team, France, that won the tour­na­ment for the se­cond time af­ter they hosted the World Cup in 1998. Twenty years ago, Di­dier Deschamps lifted the tro­phy as cap­tain and he is now the third per­son in his­tory to win the ti­tle as both a player and as a coach.

The down­pour that be­gan im­me­di­ately af­ter ref­eree Nestor Pi­tana blew the fi­nal whis­tle on the fi­nal match sub­se­quently swept across Rus­sia. This would not have been such a big deal, but one of the World Cup sta­di­ums in Vol­gograd could not with­stand the force of the el­e­ments. The arena was flooded, while an em­bank­ment nearby col­lapsed and was washed into the Volga. Putin's gov­ern­ment spent the over­whelm­ing amount of $256.5 mil­lion on the con­struc­tion of that sta­dium.

The rain washed away the re­mains of the ar­ti­fi­cial beauty and re­fine­ment. Rus­sia re­gained its usual im­age and Putin im­me­di­ately re­moved his diplo­matic mask. Af­ter the storm had washed away his "sand­cas­tle", the Krem­lin’s dwarf be­gan to threaten Ukraine and Ge­or­gia: "For us, this is a di­rect threat to na­tional se­cu­rity. Mov­ing NATO in­fra­struc­ture to­wards our bor­ders will be per­ceived as a threat and the re­ac­tion will be ex­tremely neg­a­tive."

Sym­bolic hos­pi­tal­ity. Dur­ing the storm that took place af­ter the 2018 World Cup fi­nal, only Vladimir Putin got an um­brella

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