Russia’s World Cup Opportunity
In June and July, when Russia hosts the 2018 World Cup, it will have a chance to shatter many of the Western media stereotypes depicting the country as hopelessly corrupt. At the same time, for those who view the world through a zero-sum geopolitical lens, the event will offer the powerful corrective of cooperation and collegiality.
MOSCOW – It is hard to imagine a positive headline this year featuring the words “Russia” and “global impact.” If anything, the international news media seem to be competing to provide the most lurid possible coverage of Russia under President Vladimir Putin. And yet, in two months, when Russia hosts the soccer World Cup – the world’s most-watched sporting event – it will make just such a positive contribution on the international stage.
Some observers will view the 2018 World Cup in terms of Putin’s effort to project “soft power,” and as an occasion for corrupt Russian officials to feather their nests. But that interpretation is too glib. In fact, the Kremlin would benefit even more from staging a well-organized event. And with nearly two million tickets already sold, the 2018 World Cup is on track to be a major success.
The people purchasing tickets want to be part of an international festival at which the world’s best soccer players compete. Their goal is not to make a political statement. Likewise, the Kremlin has not exploited the World Cup for propaganda purposes any more than previous hosts have done. Whether it was Germany, South Africa, or Brazil, all have used the occasion to burnish their reputations for hospitality and openness.