In 1939 Winston Churchill observed that Russia was “a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma”. Nearly 80 years later, with the 2018 World Cup in full swing, it is hard to imagine he would have changed his mind.
It’s easy to condemn a World Cup hosted by Russia as morally repugnant.
Firstly, there is the huge cloud that never disappeared after a bidding process in 2010 by an endemically corrupt FIFA, which was never fully investigated as the Russian computers involved in the bidding process were all “destroyed”.
Secondly, this is a country that has supported a tyrant using chemical weapons against its own people, been accused by the MH17 inquiry of killing 298 people by shooting down a commercial airliner over Ukraine, and seemingly orchestrated a double poisoning on the streets of England.
I therefore decided early on that I would boycott this World Cup. Sour grapes, you may say – the English in particular are still sore about the failure of their bid to host this very tournament.
What’s more, supporting England themselves is a particularly joyless experience, with only five knockout wins since 1966, primarily because they are bottom of the all-time World Cup penalty shootout rankings, thanks to a record of losing three out of three – so what would I be missing out on anyway?
Robbie likes a rouble
But as soon as the tournament kicked off, my resolve failed almost immediately. It’s hard not to be whipped up by the romanticism of the thing – the World Cup is something of a global religion in terms of bringing nationalities together.
Also, who knows what opportunities for peaceful protest may emerge (although Robbie Williams flipping the bird to an audience of billions in the opening ceremony was more Jesse Pinkman than Jesse Owens).
Russia to rue the day?
Of course, there’s also a huge difference between the Russian state and the Russian people, and it’s grossly unfair to judge the likely behaviour of the hosts by the actions of their head of state.
So, with my recently confirmed dual citizenship meaning I now officially have Denmark to support as well as England, I will be tuning in again along with everyone else.
And, from the perspective of an Englishman, what could be a more tantalising prospect than Vladimir witnessing the handover of the World Cup trophy to a smiling Harry Kane on July 15?