Tuesday, 25 July 2017

RUSSIA: World Cup 2018, How Ready Is Russia?

Reports from Russia citing Russiatourism’s document on activities in 2016, that six out of eleven Russian federal regions set to host FIFA World Cup games lack sufficient accommodation.

There are no grounds for concern about accommodation for fans at the 2018 Football World Cup in the host regions, including Volgograd, Kaliningrad, Nizhny Novgorod, Rostov and Samara regions and the Republic of Mordovia.

There will be enough places for all guests of this colorful sporting event to stay at,Safonov said as quoted by the press service of the Russia tourism.

Safonov added that in the framework of preparations for the World Cup a number of new hotels are being built in an orderly fashion under constant control, and this work would be completed on time.

Russia will host the FIFA World Cup for the first time in 2018, with the championship set to kick off on June 14 and continue through July 15. Moscow, Kaliningrad, St. Petersburg, Volgograd, Kazan, Samara, Nizhny Novgorod, Saransk, Rostov-on-Don, Sochi and Ekaterinburg will host the games.

To football fans outside of Russia, there is an undeniable air of mystery around Kazan. Moscow and St Petersburg are instantly recognisable and Sochi found fame with the 2014 Winter Olympics, but this sprawling city on the banks of the Volga and Kazanga rivers is largely unknown.

Funding has been poured into the city since its 1000 year anniversary in 2005 and one of the first things you'll notice is that it's still being spent.

Apartment buildings are springing up almost before your eyes and the roads have almost all been refurbished or rebuilt, easing congestion and allowing public transport to stay punctual.

Kazan hosted student games in 2013 and the World Aquatics Championships two years later and the state-of-the-art venues for those events are still in pristine condition, as is the revamped Kazan Arena.

The city wants to be recognised as Russia's sporting capital and it is certainly going the right way about it.

What will surprise most visitors, though, is the cultural blend. Kazan means 'cauldron' in the old Tatar dialect and the region's capital city boasts a population of 1.5million people which, one guide told us, comprises close to 100 different nationalities, many of whom are students. Leo Tolstoy went to university here, by the way.

The populace is largely Russian and Tatar and there are road signs in both languages (as well as English on the major thoroughfares), while religion is split almost 50-50 between Russian Orthodox Christianity and Islam.

There are mosques and churches side-by-side throughout the city and not a hint of animosity or mistrust of strangers.

The best examples are the Kol Sharif mosque and 16th-century Annunciation Cathedral within the Kazan Kremlin, which is certainly worth a visit.

If you have a spare half-day, take a coach (or even a taxi — they are amazingly cheap) to Sviyazhsk Island, an old fortress constructed by Ivan the Terrible that has become a community in its own right.

Away from the stadium and FIFA's army of terrific volunteers, English is not widely spoken, but that is unlikely to make it difficult to reach the ground or order a drink as you sample the local sweet delicacies ('chak-chak' the chief among them).

Kazan is not widely known to outsiders but the city wants to change that. My advice? Let it.

In Moscow, the designated venue for the tournament was Spartak Stadium to the north west of the Russian capital.

A tidy, if somewhat soulless bowl, came alive when the tournament hosts met Portugal and Cristiano Ronaldo but otherwise lacked sparkle.

There is also the problem of getting to and from the ground given Moscow's overworked road network.

Travel on the excellent Metro system – and take in its wonderfully grand stations en route – and you won't have any issues but go by car and you'll endure an entirely different experience.

It was a point alluded to by Cameroon coach Hugo Broos who earmarked delays caused by traffic congestion in both Moscow and St Petersburg as one logistical issue FIFA would have to address ahead of next year's showpiece.

Overcome that, however, and you will find an enchanting city which visitors cannot fail to enjoy. There is a mystique to Moscow you don't often find elsewhere in the world and a stroll around the historic centre, including Red Square and the Kremlin, is a must.

A walk through the bustling Gorky Park is another highlight – if you are feeling energetic, you can take the path by the Moskva River all the way to Luzhniki Stadium.

In short, Moscow has it all for the tourist and the football fan – and given the effort put into showcasing the city during the Confederations Cup and the expected increase in promotion when the whole world will be watching in 2018, it will be well worth a visit.

It is to be hoped those that do go approach it in the same way as the large contingent from Chile: friendly, sociable, eager to have a good time but also respectful of local tradition and regulations.

Do that and Moscow will give you plenty in return.

Tourism Observer

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