World Cup opens up world’s biggest country

Glory days: Russia’s amazing World Cup poster analysed for hidden messages.

Is Russia going to be the world’s next travel trend? Today the draw for the 2018 World Cup is made in Moscow. And some are predicting a new craze for vodka, ice, bears and Dostoyevsky…

Today, at around 3pm, England will find out how they can win the World Cup.

The draw for next summer’s tournament will be made in the Kremlin, the walled fortress at the heart of Moscow which has been the home of grand tsars, grey-faced communists and now Vladimir Putin, the world’s first “post-modern dictator”.

The 32 teams will be drawn into eight groups of four. The best two teams from each group will qualify for the knockout stages, with the final taking place at the Luzhniki Stadium on July 15th.

When Putin, not a football fan himself, decided that Russia should bid, the country’s relations with the West were good. Affluence abounded, and the rouble was strong.

As Simon Kuper writes in the Financial Times, “Putin must have imagined the World Cup as his version of China’s 2008 Beijing Olympics: a coming-out party for a well-off, confident, modern power.”

But since then Russia’s reputation has collapsed following wars in Ukraine and Syria, economic decline and the Olympic doping scandal. Many Russians fear that, despite the country’s desperation to present itself well, the thousands of visiting journalists will pump out the coverage that Russians call zloradstvo (evil-revelling).

Russia has still not fully established itself on the tourist trail. The country received a mere 25 million tourists in 2016 — not many for the world’s biggest country measured by land mass. By comparison, France welcomed 83 million tourists.

Visiting fans next summer will travel far beyond Moscow and St Petersburg, from the curious exclave of Kaliningrad to Yekaterinburg in the Ural Mountains. What will they find?

A pristine wilderness covering one eighth of the world’s land surface. The world’s longest passenger train journey. The site of the second world war’s most important battle. The world’s deepest lake. And then there are quirkier attractions: a “military Disneyland”, Russian bath-houses, known as banyas, and experiencing weightlessness at a cosmonaut training centre.

Will Russia become the world’s next tourism frontier?


Inevitably it will, say some. As affluence increases, so does tourism. First we discovered Spain. Then Greece. Then Bulgaria and Turkey. These destinations are now old news, and the world is crying out for a new place to discover. Russia has extraordinary cultural and natural wealth, and, thanks to the World Cup, word will get out.

Others respond that it is wrong to talk about a corrupt, warmongering dictatorship in the same breath as a country like Spain. But moral objections to visiting Russia are just the beginning. The country has an ingrained reputation for being cold, gruff, miserable and pricey. One tournament will not shake that off.

You Decide

  1. Would you like to visit Russia?
  2. Will hosting the World Cup be good for Russia?


  1. Come up with five words you associate with Russia. Share them with your class. Which words are most common?
  2. Design two posters. One encouraging people to visit Russia, and one encouraging people to stay away.

Some People Say...

“The Iron Curtain may be a thing of the past, but Mother Russia is as mysterious as ever.”

Robert Gottlieb

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
The World Cup draw is taking place today at 3pm GMT in Moscow. This is the first time an Eastern European country, let alone Russia, has hosted the tournament. Preparations for the tournament are going reasonably well, but there remain fears over violence between fans, and doubts whether provincial Russian cities will be able to cope with thousands of visitors. We know that hosting sporting events is a common way for a country to show itself off to the world.
What do we not know?
Whether the World Cup will turn the tide of how the rest of the world sees Russia, or whether all the old stereotypes will be confirmed. We do not yet know whether fears of violence will become reality. And of course, we do not know who will win the World Cup!

Word Watch

Not a football fan himself
Russians often refer to themselves a nyefutbolnaya strana — a “non-footballing country”, however, the largest Russian clubs are all well-supported, and the national team reached the semi-finals of the 2008 European Championships.
Olympic doping scandal
Russian authorities will have no contact with doping authorities at the World Cup, it has been announced.
Exclave of Kaliningrad
Wedged between Lithuania and Poland, Kaliningrad used to be Königsberg, the capital of East Prussia. An exclave is a territory that is entirely surrounded by other countries and is detached from the rest of the country.
Longest passenger train journey
The Trans-Siberian Railway from Moscow to Vladivostok is 5,772 miles and takes nearly a week.
Most important battle
The city of Volgograd, one of the host cities next summer, used to be called Stalingrad. Nearly two million people died at the Battle of Stalingrad, which turned the tide of the second world war.
World’s deepest lake
Lake Baikal, in Eastern Siberia, holds around 22% of the world’s fresh water.


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