“There is a festival atmosphere here now. After the World Cup at least we will still have the merchandise, which will be much cheaper,” a young man draped in a Russian flag jokes cynically. He is one of hundreds out on Red Square, which has been turned into a big football park for the tournament. One young mother is thrilled about the park’s pitches and games — and the atmosphere the championship has brought to her city. “Everyone wants to come into town and hang out. I feel like even the metro takes me to the center of Moscow faster now,” she laughs, adding “I’d like everything to stay the way it is after the World Cup, including the fans. They are so positive.”
In the past few weeks hundreds of thousands of foreign soccer fans have swept through Russia’s 11 host cities like a whirlwind. They have brought a near perpetual party atmosphere to Russia’s capital. On Nikolskaya Street, with its fairy lights, fans from around the world could be seen dancing, taking selfies, and trying on each others’ sombreros. Police turned a blind eye to drinking in public and surprised observers by posing for the occasional photo themselves.
At Red Square, many Russians say they are enjoying the mood while it lasts. “Nothing will stay. They will take everything apart, trample it and destroy it. That’s the way people are here,” says one woman. Another is more optimistic, pointing out that the stadiums in the host cities will still make people proud and “will all stay for future generations.”
Polishing Russia’s image
That pride comes at a cost: Russia has invested a total of 683 billion rubles (€9.4 billion; $11 billion) in the World Cup, a majority of which was spent on infrastructure and construction projects. But organizers also expect billions to flow back into Russia’s coffers after the fans leave — in part because they are counting on a boost in tourism — and to Russia’s image.
The World Cup has indeed been making positive waves – and not just among the fans who have travelled to Russia. Alexander Baunov, an analyst with the Carnegie Moscow Center, argues that the power of a flurry of positive photos on social media shouldn’t be dismissed off-hand. “Russia has gotten a lot of likes,” he says.