Russia’s organization of the World Cup has drawn originally grudging, and later more willing, appreciation from foreign media and fans. The facility of visa-free entry into Russia, with permission to stay for the entire duration of the World Cup, for all ticket-holders is unheard-of in Russian practice. World Cup ticket holders are also allowed free use of public transport. Western fans, especially those from UK and the US, who had initially been discouraged by the negative travel advisories of their government (and matching hostile media descriptions), have started going to Russia in much larger numbers. Western media channels are now reporting the special efforts being made by the Russians to be friendly, welcoming and hospitable, belying prevailing stereotypes. On NSA Bolton’s return from Moscow, President Trump complimented Russia on its organization of the World Cup.
President Putin has used the opportunity for diplomacy with leaders of countries playing in the tournament. While visiting St Petersburg in May, President Macron had said that if France reached the final, he would be in Moscow to attend it. Since France and Russia are in opposite halves of the draw, President Putin should have no conflict of interest in supporting France to reach the final! As Russia basks in this (rare) positive international attention, the extraordinary success of its team so far – it is the lowest-ranked in the tournament, but has reached the quarter-finals – is an icing on the cake.
June 30, 2018