The Fifa World Cup, the world’s most popular sporting show, gets under way on Thursday in Moscow.
Host nation Russia play Saudi Arabia in the opening match of the tournament and, over the next 32 days, football fans will be treated to 64 high-octane matches played in 12 stadiums spread across 11 Russian cities.
The stakes are high with bragging rights, the trophy, national pride as well as personal ambitions in focus.
But the tournament is not just about prestige, honour and immortality on the pitch. It’s also about money.
According to world football governing body Fifa, the total prize money this year stands at Sh79.1 billion, of which Sh4 billion will be distributed to the 32 competing teams, depending on performance and placement.
COMPENSATION TO CLUBS
The rest of the amount will be handed out as part of preparations for the tournament, benefits to players’ parent clubs and compensation to clubs that lose their players due to injury.
The World Cup winners will take home an eye-watering figure of Sh3.8 billion, an increase on the Sh3.5 billion paid out to Germany after winning the 2014 tournament in Brazil.
The Russian cities of Moscow, Sochi, Saint Petersburg, Kaliningrad, Nizhny Novgorod, Kazan, Saransk, Samara, Volgograd and Rostov-On-Don will host the quadrennial tournament with Moscow’s iconic Luzhniki Stadium the venue of the opening ceremony and today’s opening match, as well as the final game and the closing ceremony on July 15.
The 12 venues for the tournament include the 81,000-seater Luzhniki Stadium, Saint Petersburg (67,000), Fisht Stadium (48,000), Ekaterinburg Arena (45,000), Kazan Arena (45,000), Nizhny Novgorod (45,000) and Rostov Arena (45,000). The others are Samara Arena (45,000), Mordovia Arena (45,000), Volgograd Stadium (45,000), Spartak Stadium (42,000) and Aliningrad Stadium (32, 212).
Some 36 referees will officiate in the tournament with the help of 63 assistant referees.
Nigeria, Tunisia, Egypt, Morocco and Senegal will fly Africa’s flag in Russia. Egypt, the most successful team in the continent, having won the Africa Cup of Nations a record seven times, returns to the World Cup after a 28-year hiatus.
Sadly, Kenya will have to continue the wait to see action at the World Cup as our football is still in the ‘intensive care unit’ and in need of a major overhaul to keep up with the top nations.
Nonetheless, Kenyans will share in this festival with NTV offering free-to-air live broadcasts of 32 of the tournament’s 64 matches over the month-long extravaganza, in partnership with Kwese Free Sports.
Sport — especially the world’s most popular game of football — plays a huge role in unifying nations.
For instance, Wednesday’s victory of the joint Canada-USA-Mexico bid for hosting rights of the 2026 World Cup finals will play a major role in easing the diplomatic tensions between the three North American nations.
Such is the power of sport and, despite the fact that Kenya’s Harambee Stars will be missing out in Russia, we should take this opportunity to share in the joy of the World Cup.
Meanwhile, with video halls and public spaces across Kenya being converted into World Cup viewing centres for the next month, there is every need to exercise extra caution and intensify security during this exciting period.
This is especially as safety issues are of great concern not just in Kenya but globally, going by recent incidents at places of mass public gatherings.
Further, we should enjoy the matches with a fair share of decorum and tolerance, even when teams we shall be supporting are on the receiving end of not-too-flattering scorelines. Emotions must be kept in check because, after all, it’s just a game, and winning or losing shouldn’t drive a wedge among us.
Our football managers and players alike should take time to learn what it takes to be among the world’s best by keenly following the proceedings in Russia.
We must aim at making an appearance at the next World Cup in Qatar in 2022, which is possible only with prudent management, proper planning and prudent benchmarking.
While it would be our joy to see an African nation lift the coveted golden trophy for the first time ever, we wish all the 32 competing nations well. May the best team win!