IN MOSCOW, RUSSIA.
Fifa president Gianni Infantino’s assessment of the 2018 Fifa World Cup played in Russia was an endorsement of the country’s performance as hosts of the quadrennial championship.
While addressing the media at Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow on Friday, Infantinno praised the hosts “for hosting the best World Cup tournament in the history of the game.”
“We said we wanted this to be the best World Cup ever and it’s been the best World Cup ever. And we should say thanks to Russia: the Russian Government, the LOC, the Russian Football Union. And the volunteers, who are the smile and the heart of the World Cup.
“All of them have worked very hard to make this event a big success,” Infantino said on Friday in his closing remarks to journalists.
Russia has hosted the most expensive edition of the tournament, spending some Sh1.3 trillion to build stadiums and to host the 32 teams in the tournament staged in European half of Russia.
Over the last one month, Russia has hosted 32 teams playing in 11 cities across 12 stadiums in what has also been described as the most expensive edition of the tournament.
A total of 64 World Cup matches have been played in the tournament, starting with the opening match between the home team and Saudi Arabia which the hosts won 5-0, to Sunday’s final between France and Croatia.
“I think the World Cup has changed the perception of the world towards Russia. Everyone has discovered a beautiful country, a welcoming country, full of people keen to show to the world what maybe sometimes is said is not what happens here,” Infantino added.
In hosting the world’s greatest sporting event, the Fifa World Cup, Russia got a chance to showcase its ability to host thousands of visitors from all corners of the globe and to market itself to the outside world.
The Fifa World Cup also gave Russia’s president Vladimir Putin an opportunity to speak directly to the world during the opening and closing ceremonies, and to prove the country’s critics wrong.
Russia’s success in staging a smooth tournament can be linked to a number of factors.
Amid biting economic sanctions by USA and souring diplomatic relations with western European countries, Russia set out from the word go to change some of the poor perceptions by people about the country, and to give fans a chance to experience Russia’s hospitality first-hand.
In providing free transport to football fans using the country’s metro stations, Russia eased local transport for fans in the hosting cities.
An army of 17,040 volunteers was on the ground to help visitors find their way around match venues, metro stations and fan zones.
Even then, every Russian seemed to have been transformed into a volunteer as they were ready to help whenever called upon by visitors.
The 11 fan zones located in each of the 11 host cities particularly proved popular as they offered fans without tickets a chance to watch matches live on giant screens.
The total prize money for the 2018 tournament is Sh79.1 billion ($791 million), of which $400 million will be distributed to the 32 competing teams depending on performance.
Winner of the final match between Croatia and France will take home an eye-watering Sh3.8 billion ($38 million), while the runners-up will receive Sh2.9 billion ($29 million) and third-placed team Belgium Sh2.4 billion ($24 million).
With the conclusion of the tournament, focus shifts to 2022 hosts Qatar as the Middle East get a chance to host football greatest showpiece event for the first time ever.
And it will be interesting to see how the tiny but rich Middle East nation hosts the biennial world football fete with talks of gleaming new indoor stadiums that are air conditioned.