Source: The Hitavada      Date: 11 Jun 2018 11:54:02

IN A couple of days, soccer fever will rule the world for one month. The World Cup, football’s quadrennial extravaganza will hold sway again over untold number of people who take to the ‘Beautiful Game’ as a succour to tide over the travails of daily life. Football holds such power and lure that no other sport in the world can match. And the World Cup brings with it a magical indulgence, never easy to escape. It is a bandwagon that the universe waits to jump upon, unmindful of nationalities, creed or religion.

As Russia plays host to the marquee event, a wave of hope and anxiety fills the air. For, it is a country eager to parade its aspirations as a footballing powerhouse and also to earn bragging rights as a power that can provide a clean stage to sports, especially in the aftermath of the doping sanctions Russian athletes faced in Olympics. The blot of sponsoring a regime of athletes shining on performance-enhancing substances has dented Russian sports badly. Scepticism over every sporting move, especially in the West, has jolted Mr. Vladimir Putin’s administration into presenting to the world a powerful Russia that can offer sports as a clean and fair spectacle. It is through this prism this edition of the World Cup will be viewed with in the political circles, away from the massive love that fans will pour on their favourite teams.

Politics is likely to be a constant hyphen with this World Cup as Mr. Putin seeks a larger role for Russia in every sphere including sports. The Russian President’s political alignments and policies are viewed with suspicion in the United States and United Kingdom. Charges of poisoning a former spy in England and rigging of elections in the US have strained Russia’s relations with both the countries. So much so that England had threatened to boycott the World Cup while US President Mr. Donald Trump advised fans travelling for the soccer fest to think twice before entering Russia.

Political slugfest apart, a tasty treat is definitely on offer on the football field when the likes of Ronaldo, Neymar, Lionel Messi and Mohd. Salah yet again carry dreams of millions on their shoulders. Fans have made their picks to hold aloft the most-prized trophy on the night of July 15. Defending champions Germany start favourites, Brazil remain sentimental choice, Argentina take another shot at history, Spain emerge a dark horse, and England once again come out to wipe off the label of poor journeymen. Then there are battles within battles when Ronaldo stands up to Messi and Neymar jousts with last World Cup’s sensation James Rodriguez. As Russia searches for a larger cause in the World Cup, the world is ready to have its own fill from the Cup of Joy. Bring it on!