The Jakarta Post
Indonesia and the rest of the Muslim world will enjoy a double party this week. As they revel in the victory of the forces of good over evil at the end of a grueling month-long fast, the much-awaited soccer World Cup kicks off on Thursday evening.
The opening match between host Russia and Saudi Arabia will enliven Idul Fitri eve, and the merriment will continue for one full month.
The World Cup, dubbed the most popular tournament on the planet, is indeed a quadrennial event that people from all walks of life, ages, races, faiths and even political views cannot afford to miss. It is a celebration that unites the world.
For President Vladimir Putin, the World Cup will put his credentials at stake as Russia is the first East European country to host the event. There are so many things Putin needs to prove that FIFA, soccer’s governing body, made the right choice.
Russia’s selection as the host had sparked controversy that stemmed from allegations of bribery in the bidding process, although an investigation cleared Russia — and Qatar, the 2022 host — of any wrongdoing. Then-FIFA president Sepp Blatter stated in 2014 that “the World Cup has been given and voted to Russia and we are going forward with our work”.
There have been concerns not only from players competing in the event, but also from soccer fans about the level of racism and discrimination against LGBT people by Russian fans. The financial burden Russia has to bear has forced Putin’s administration to slash the budget for the World Cup to US$11.8 billion from the original $20 billion. Most of the money was spent on infrastructure, especially airports.
Despite all the hiccups, the show must go on.
FIFA has allocated 2.4 million tickets for 64 matches in 11 Russian cities for the month-long tournament that features 32 national teams. Fans can expect exciting matches featuring the world’s best soccer talent.
Some are upset by the failure of four-time champion Italy and three-time runner-up the Netherlands to qualify, but many others will cheer on Egyptian star Mohamed Salah whom hosts Russia must watch closely when they meet on June 20.
Talismanic players like Cristiano Ronaldo, whose European champion team Portugal is pitted against Spain in the same group, and Argentinean Lionel Messi will be the magnets of the tournament. Many, however, are betting on seeing defending champions Germany and five-time champions Brazil in the final on July 15.
Some rich Indonesians, and lucky journalists, will have first-hand experience of watching a grand tournament like the World Cup. But there are other choices for soccer mad Indonesians to quench their thirst for live games, ranging from free TV broadcasts to paid livestreaming.
Qualifying for and hosting the World Cup looks to remain elusive for Indonesia until the next few editions of the tournament. For the time being, let us enjoy the matches and may the best team lift the coveted trophy.