Russia has faced few problems and has become a good host for the FIFA World Cup 2018, primarily due to the fans.
At a small café near the Kremlin, a queue had formed outside the washroom. It was close to 5 am on a Sunday but the café was overflowing. Welcome to the World Cup. In the days leading up to the opener between Russia and Saudi Arabia, fans from around the globe had arrived in Moscow but it was really on the first Saturday of the competition that the idea of the World Cup really coalesced. And it was at the city center in Moscow that it did.
Even the weather gods have been kind to Russia. It was expected to rain in the first week but Moscow has been warm and sunny during the day followed by cool, breezy nights. Two weeks into the World Cup, it has made the carnival more enjoyable.
“I thought it would be like a festival. It’s not ‘like a festival’; it is a festival,” said a Tunisian fan, laying added stress on ‘is’, as we spoke ahead of their game against England. A few minutes later, a man draped in a Russian flag came over. “Which country?” he asked in English barely comprehensible.
“Oh! Jimmy Jimmy!” he replied. Mithun da (Mithun Chakraborty) continues to be a rage in this part of the world and the reference was to the eponymous song from his 1982 blockbuster ‘Disco Dancer’. It is a reply almost every Indian journalist at the World Cup has heard in Russia. Chakraborty’s popularity in this country cannot be properly understood until you meet a few middle-aged Russians. He has danced into their hearts in the way Raj Kapoor ‘tramped’ into that of their parents.
Middle-aged or not, Russia was a little wary of how their team, at 70 ranked lowest among the 32 here, would fare in the World Cup. Their build-up had been anything but buoyant so when Stanislav Cherchesov’s team beat Saudi Arabia 5-0, it deserved a party. And if they needed a mood enhancer, the defeat of the Mo Salah fronted Egypt provided just that. In Moscow, coordinated chants of ‘Russ-e-ya! Russ-e-ya!’ reverberated through the streets.
But the most striking part of the celebrations was its spontaneity. The roads in the city center had been almost empty at the time of the game; it was the pubs that were overflowing. Then within 15 minutes after it ended, the roads filled up with cars blaring horns and waving Russian flags. The World Cup had truly arrived in Russia.
World Cup of online translators
On the day of Argentina’s 3-0 loss to Croatia, when this reporter asked for an order to be placed at a restaurant here in Nizhny Novgorod for lunch, the waitress held up her phone. “It will take some time for preparation,” flashed on the screen, the translation provided by an online app.
This was a restaurant that served traditional Russian, Tatar, Central Asian and your typical western world fast food. After surviving on the likes of stroganoff, pelmeni (Russian traditional dumplings) and fast food, I couldn’t resist ordering a plate of pilaf (rice cooked in broth) here.
The cost, as at any other average Russian restaurant, was reasonably low: for 150 roubles you can get a plate of pilaf. Food is cheap even at Fifa’s media centers, say scribes with experience of being at multiple editions of the World Cup. Nevertheless, a few seconds later, the waitress showed another message on her translator, “We don’t know English. We learn.”
As much as it has been about the football, this has also been a World Cup of online translation apps and websites. Yes, some of the conversations may be lost in translation but without these, you would be seriously hobbled.
‘Like a United Nations meeting’
“I have never seen so many people from so many countries here. This is special,” said cab driver Andrey in near-flawless English as we drove to the Sheremetyevo airport in Moscow earlier this week. “Thanks to the Champion (World Cup).” “Today, I have driven around Mexicans, Argentines and you from India. Last week, I met people from Peru, Morocco, Portugal, Germany and many others. “It’s like a big United Nations meeting,” he laughed.
According to different estimates, more than 2 million fans are expected to be in Russia for the World Cup. But what makes it different from a United Nations meeting is that at the UN, they don’t party into the morning.