Luc Jones, a partner and the commercial director of Antal Russia tells us all.
Luc first of all says how fantastic it is to have the World Cup in Russia: "First of all, I won't have to go somewhere a long way away like Brazil which I did 4 years ago. Brazil was great, apart from the football. This is the first time the World Cup has ever been held in the Eastern Bloc; Russia hasn't held an international tournament of this magnitude before. Yes they had the Winter Olympics a couple of years back, but on the negative side, I don't think there has been a tournament in living memory where there haven't been dire warnings about how terrible everything is going to be. 8 years ago it was the same thing; ‘Jo'Burg, Murder Capital Of the World' screamed the headlines, then we had the negativity towards Brazil, and now we are getting the same thing with Russia and do you know what, I think it's going to be fine."
Host John Harrison asks what the Russian people feel about this event, as football is not the only national sport. Luc says: "Obviously hockey would come a close second if not first here, but football is very popular in Russia. Yes, it was in the doldrums in the nineties, even in Soviet times the USSR national team never really got to the heights of the game and didn't compete with many of the top nations, but that doesn't mean that people here don't enjoy watching it, and here it is on their home turf. I haven't met a Russian yet who has said that he or she is unhappy about the World Cup being held here. Even if you don't like football itself, there have been huge infrastructure projects. I have been to every one of the cities where games will be held except Saransk and you can see not just new stadiums being built, but airports, train stations, and hotels. You could be forgiven for thinking that a lot of these cities smell of paint, because everything is still being done up, but this can only be good for Russia. Russia knows it is on the world stage that it is under the spotlight, so it is pulling out all the stops."
To the question, "what do foreigners who are living here in Russia think about the event?" Luc says: "I think they are positive, the only slightly negative comment has been from people who don't like football. But in the end of the day, let's not forget that we are guests here in Russia and our opinion is rather irrelevant on this matter. Russia decided that the World Cup will take place and it is going to happen."
To the subject of what the people coming to Russia might feel about the place, Luc says: "They may have an outdated image of Russia partly because unfortunately the international and particularly the British media I think are extremely guilty of blowing things out of proportion. No journalist ever comes to Russia from the UK or virtually from anywhere else in the western world who has the remotest intention of writing anything even a little bit neutral or let alone partly positive. Let's face it, nobody is going to become a famous journalist by writing about how the trains arrive on time or how beautiful the Metro is. In the end people want to hear about the Russian mafia selling plutonium to Iran or people going blind because they brewed home-made vodka in Siberia at the wrong temperature… There was an interesting article published by the Argentinian Football Association which, I have to say, provoked a lot of laughter in both the Russian and the international press. I have been to Argentina and I have to say that there are some very attractive ladies there; the only problem is that the men are quite good looking as well. I think that there are a lot of stereotypes and there always will be about Russia. You find the same thing with British, when Russians find out you are from Britain they ask: ‘Oh, does it always rain there?' Part of the job of embassies or British representatives is sometimes to state the blindingly obvious, to justify their own existence somehow, but unfortunately there are people who do not prepare for these kinds of trips. What I have found is that for many football trips there will be one guy who will arrange the trip for 5 or 10 mates, and everybody else thinks that they are devoid of any kind of responsibility of even finding out what city they are going to let alone finding out what hotel they are staying in. They leave their brains in the departure lounge and then they get into trouble just by having not done the basics, and then assume that their embassy should be bailing them out…"
Luc says a few words about what Russia is like in the summer: "It's very hot, hotter than in the UK for example….Most people's reaction when they come here for the first time is that they take a walk down Tverskaya and think: Oh wow, it's normal! There are shops and restaurants and hotels, it's quite similar to back home apart from the funny writing. I do say to people that it's a good idea to make an effort to walk around, not just go to the nearest Irish pub, and you don't have to start drinking first thing in the morning…"
Luc gives a brief run down on all the cities where the matches are to be held, and includes some travel details. He also talks about some of the logistics issues involved in so many people staying in the smaller cities. Luc finishes the program by showing his true colors: "Usually the English media are guilty of ridiculously hyping up the English national team's performances, now I am hoping, because there hasn't been a lot of hype this time, just maybe, we might actually get past the quarter finals and not lose on penalties. Hooray!"
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