Road to Russia
A now complete World Cup qualification campaign, attention draws to Russia’s groundwork for the tournament next summer. Alongside the excitement arises pessimism, from numerous troubles the host country needs to repair.
Arguably the chief problem in the eyes of other nations taking part, Russia has persistently found itself at the centre of racism in football. The Russian Football Union (RFS) was fined after Euro 2012 for racial abuse directed at Czech right-back Theodor Gebre Selassie, a year after Brazilian icon Roberto Carlos walked off the pitch after a banana was thrown from the stands, while playing for Anzhi Makhachkala.
Several of the racism cases in Russia are directed towards Muslim and non-white players and communities. Seeing a high rise in the number of Middle-Eastern and North African teams involved (Iran, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, Morocco, Egypt, Nigeria and Senegal), racism is expected to be a worrying sight again. Other related issues include discrimination against LGBT people in the country, a major abuse of human rights in Russia, and Russian hooliganism in Marseille during a Euro 2016 match with England.
The host country will need to bump up high-speed trains and use of internal flights. This is because of the long distances some teams and fans will travel. Kaliningrad, the most westerly host city, and Yekaterinburg, the most easterly, are farther apart than London and Moscow and travelling by train between them would take more than 36 hours. The current trains are far too slow, and it is unlikely that a super-fast train from Moscow to Kazan will be complete and ready in time for the tournament (the train would be four times faster than current trains).
2014’s seizure of Crimea and deployment of troops in Eastern Ukraine have strained relations between Kiev and Moscow. This has gone as far as UEFA separating Russian and Ukrainian clubs from being drawn together in the same Champions League and Europa League groups. Calls have been made to strip Russia as hosts as part of an economic sanctions package. Instead, the issue should not be expected due to Ukraine’s unsuccessful qualification campaign.
Doping in Russia
Russia had 41 medals stripped from the 2016 Olympic Games. German broadcaster ARD began major investigations to Russian doping when claiming state-sponsored doping in Russia and since then the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) has been critical of the Russian Anti-Doping Agency (RUSADA), even recommending an ultimately unsuccessful Russian exclusion from the Olympics. Questions on juked stats and covered-up evidence from positive doping tests will still carry over to the World Cup, a close hawk eye fixed on the Russian team.
Despite all the issues piled on Russia economically, politically and socially, there is still progress to appreciate, most significantly the refurbishment work of the 81,000-capacity Luzhniki stadium. Close eyes will focus on how Russia deals with all its difficulties, and also how the other 31 teams cope with 11 different time zones in Russia next year.