JOHANNESBURG - This World Cup is simply Russian past. Excuse the pun, but I couldn’t help myself. It’s only been a week since it kicked off, but there has been a frantic pace that has pulsed through the tournament, infectious in its kineticism, joyous in its execution.
Other than the awfully enacted opening ceremony where we were all subjected to a bizarre, The Lake House-esques love story between Russia and Robbie Williams, and that infuriating Hyundai ad where Maroon 5 insists on deconstructing Bob Marley’s classic Three Little Birds - the showcase of football has been an enriching experience. But its presentation has been David Lyncian in its deception. In his seminal work, Blue Velvet, Lync offers an idyllic town with Arcadian values, only to reveal the unsavoury reality hidden just beneath the surface.
If you look behind the brilliantly designed stadiums, their brightly lit fields, and past their welcoming, multicultural-participated stands, were the nitid allure of the beautiful game is being presented in all its glory, you will find a similar dichotomy exists in Russia. The Fifa and Russian PR machine has made an attractive spectacle of it all, mesmerising each and every one of us with the skills of the footballing stars, the fight of the minnows, the rise of the underdog and the flailings of the favourites, but it still glosses over the country’s current reality.
Both Amnesty International and Human Right Watch do not favourably review the Russian state at the moment. They charge that under President Vladimir Putin there has been a clampdown on the freedom of assembly, the suppression of political opposition, freedom of association, freedom of religion and freedom of expression. On Thursday the New York Times submitted a chilling account online, in which a young man recounted being tortured by the FSB (Russia’s main intelligence agency) in February, saying: “The man in surgical gloves cranked the DC generator with wires attached to my toes.
“The calves of my legs started contracting violently, I was paralyzed with pain. They threw me on the floor, pulled my underpants down and tried to attach the wires to my genitals. I clenched my teeth so hard that my mouth was full of blood and shards of broken teeth.”
Meanwhile, domestic violence, a blight that haunts the psyche of South African society, has been virtually legitimised in that country, unless the violence and harm is so severe that it leads to hospital treatment, while there has been a concerted effort by the Russian state to control the movement of those who identify differently according to gender and sexual orientation.
An article released by The Nation and quoting AP, revealed how members of Football Against Racism in Europe (FARE) - an NGO that traces racism and homophobia in football - were evicted from the houses they were leasing in St Petersburg during this World Cup, ostensibly for political reasons.
Western propaganda or truth? It’s difficult to say sitting here in SA. Nevertheless, I find myself watching this tournament with cognitive dissonance, which I just can’t shake. Maybe, I’m giving it too much thought. Perhaps, I should mind my own business and just enjoy the football.