Vladimir Putin’s Russia revels in a World Cup nobody could take away
MOSCOW, RUSSIA - DECEMBER 01: FIFA President, Gianni Infantino speaks to Vladimir Putin, President of Russia as they walk onto the stage during the Final Draw for the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia at the State Kremlin Palace on December 1, 2017 in Moscow, Russia. (Photo by Matthias Hangst/Bongarts/Getty Images)

Ever since Russia’s World Cup bid beat England’s by 22 votes to 2 in 2010, a battle to take the hosting rights away has raged on.

Russia will host the 2018 World Cup and Qatar will host the 2022 World Cup. Their wins have been heavily scrutinized ever since criminal investigations by United States’ FBI have found 17 of the 24 members of the now disassembled FIFA Executive Committee that took the vote guilty of corruption and breaches of ethics rules. Russian officials were in the center of attention, as they were accused of personally bribing the members in order to win the vote. A former MI6 (United Kingdom’s Secret Intelligence Service) officer has claimed that Vladimir Putin himself had gathered “his” oligarchs and told them to ensure Russia wins the bid to host the 2018 World Cup by any means necessary.

From valuable pieces of art exchanging hands behind closed doors to money being transferred to third party bank accounts, there were signs of criminal injustice all over the place. No evidence was found to confirm any of the allegations against Russian officials, but some of them were punished by the International Olympics Committee as a consequence of the state-sponsored doping scandal that shook the entire sports world. Russia’s sport ministry had overseen a huge doping programme involving over 3000 athletes, which led to the IOC banning the country’s team from competing in the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang.

Russia already had an image of a cold, dirty country full of rude, foul-mouthed Vodka drinkers and a reputation for corruption in every level of society. That image has been further smeared following the poisoning of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter, and the multiple cyber-attacks that have been backtracked to the Russian Federation. Putin has taken all the incriminations in stride, confidently going on about his business of building the stadiums that will host the summer’s main sporting event that has cost an estimated €12 billion. While others have been trying to splatter him with blame, the Russian president has been reveling in his victory, enthusiastic and excited about the fact that millions will come visit Russia and see with their own eyes that this country is not what the international media has made it out to be.