The untold stories
Amol Gokhale, who was in Russia covering 2018 FIFA World Cup for Sakal Times, recounts some of the precious moments that he experienced as a journalist and a visitor.
This article is probably that small piece which completes the puzzle and brings out the beautiful picture. So here are some untold stories and pictures from my FIFA 2018 journey which might have skipped my mind.
It has to start with gatecrashing a party on the opening day of World Cup after Russia’s 5-0 victory over Saudi Arabia. Elena asked me to join her for the party she had an invitation to and I was game. I realised that it was a party hosted by Russia’s FIFA World Cup ambassador Victoria Lopyreva, a former Miss Russia, and some of the biggest names in football like Xavi, Carles Puyol, Iker Casillas and Didier Drogba joined the celebrations.
A word for volunteers
I have no words and ‘Thank you’ is way too short and an inadequate phrase to describe their contribution in making this World Cup the best ever. Probably, FIFA President Gianni Infantino paid them the best tribute, when he appeared for his final media briefing in volunteers’ red zipper.
After spending most of the time in the media centre, the initial hi-hellos had turned into little embraces, be it a volunteer or a FIFA official.
I think half of the Russian girls are either named Elena, Svetlana or Maria, with little difference in spellings. Elina, who looked after media ticket distribution, always welcomed everyone with a smile and wished the journalists good luck for the game. We always saw each other in the media centre, except for one time, when she was assigned to the security gate. She spent her time stitching as it was practically an off day and I simply could not resist to capture her ever constant smile.
Oh... a journalist!
When I set foot outside my hostel, I put on my Media Accreditation as it also has my travel card and the accreditation attracts a lot of attention while travelling on metro or a bus. A lot of time I get asked, what it is and when I tell them it’s a Media Accreditation, they go, ‘Oh.. a journalist! Which Country?’ ‘India’ ‘Aah India... It’s a nice country, All the best!’. I can see the spark in their eyes as they meet a media person from India, as some of them refer to Bollywood in little conversations till we reach our destination. I’ve had countless such conversations on my short metro trips.
There are conversations which you may start as strangers but at the end, they may appear in your Facebook friend list. I am happy to have found Aksinya, Elizabeth and Angelina and they are more than FB friends now. They showed me Gorky Park and we clicked a few pictures. We met again last week as they took me to Moscow State University and it is one of the best places I’ve been to as we clicked close to 1,000 pictures that day!
Carl, who I met on a train ride, or my hostel admins, Stas and Yarick, are also good friends now, the ones you can count on when you travel again or to refer to your friends.
Looking back at the journey, I have been like that old lady, from one of the internet memes, as she enjoys the moment, while everyone around her has phones in their hands, trying to capture it. I’ve walked for hours without taking a phone in hand, my camera is still on my shoulder, just observing, and it has been a real pleasure.
‘Spasibo Russia’, (Thank you, Russia) for memories, I will be back soon!