World Cup dream is ‘sportswashing’ Russia’s appalling record – FIFA World Cup – Russia 2018
It’s worth reflecting on what’s happened since Russia was announced as the World Cup location in 2010. (Reuters: Maxim Zmeyev)
The fences surrounding the Socceroos training field have been covered by large images of current and former stars from Down Under, alongside the slogan “honour the dream”.
The signs have transformed the ageing yet comfortable base camp in Kazan into a tiny, secure slice of Australia.
It’s a pleasant place to watch the side prepare for the World Cup.
But no amount of slick marketing can ever fully paper over the reality on the other side of the fence.
Banners bearing the slogan honour the Dream adorn the Socceroos training area in Kazan. (ABC News: Tim Stevens)
In 2010 when this tournament was awarded, no one thought Russia would suddenly become a bastion of human and civil rights, though it’s worth reflecting on all that’s happened since then.
There’s not just the annexation of Crimea, the war in Ukraine and the concerns about US election meddling.
Or just the controversy surrounding the nerve agent attack on the streets of England and the downing of MH17 — an outrage which claimed the lives of 38 Australians.
Ukrainian servicemen ride on an armoured vehicle in 2014 after fighting broke out again in the rebel-held city of Donetsk. (Reuters: Gleb Garanich)
Inside the country’s borders many activists claim life is getting tougher for them too.
A few kilometres from the Socceroos’ base we met Elvira Dmitrieva, the Kazan coordinator for supporters of opposition figure Alexei Navalny, who was banned from participating in President Vladimir Putin’s highly choreographed re-election in March.
She told me she is regularly followed or monitored and said the World Cup is being used as an excuse by authorities to crack down on dissent, as well as gloss over multiple controversies.
“Such large international sport events are profitable for Putin,” she said.
“They allow him to show the Russian regime in a good, positive light.”
A ball hasn’t even been kicked and already one of the world’s top players, Egypt and Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah, has been pictured with one of Mr Putin’s key allies Ramzan Kadyrov.
Mr Kadyrov is the head of the former war-torn Russian republic of Chechnya, where there have been repeated allegations of extrajudicial killings, illegal detentions and the torture of gay men.
Amnesty International described the images as “sportswashing”.
There are some pundits who will argue Russia’s diplomatic, democratic and human rights issues are only getting such a good airing publicly because of the intense interest in the World Cup.
That’s probably true.
But it’s also why Australia’s “honour the dream” slogan seems to perfectly suit not just the aspirations of the side, but also the whole tournament.
To fully “honour” the Socceroos’ wildest dream you have to suspend rational thought and simply hope that Australia cannot only get out of its group, which features three much higher ranked teams, but then go on to beat multiple star-studded sides like Argentina or Spain or Germany or Brazil to claim the World Cup.
It’s highly unlikely to happen.
Similarly, you have to suspend rational thought to “dream” this sporting event is about to lead to substantial long-lasting change in Russia.
Currently it seems to be simply further reinforcing the political status quo.
Tuesday was Russia Day, a fairly low-key national holiday marking the signing of the country’s official declaration of sovereignty.
It’s an event that brings back mixed feelings for some Russians, because it reminds them of the collapse of the Soviet Union, an event that was followed by turbulent economic times and a perceived loss of global prestige.
But the patriotic holiday parades in Kazan were upbeat — there was obvious excitement about the World Cup kick-off.
We randomly asked several members of the crowd who they thought was responsible for bringing the so-called festival of football to Russia.
Yes, there was really only one answer: “Vladimir Putin”.