Putin, alongside Fifa president Gianni Infantino, opened the global gathering following a short but entertaining opening ceremony that featured Robbie Williams and Russian soprano Aida Garifullina as well as Brazilian football legend Ronaldo.
The president officially started Russia 2018, with both the country’s national team and that of Group A opponents Saudi Arabia lined up in front of him, with a speech that stressed how sport and, in particular, football can unite the world like no other event.
“Hello to those of you here, in the fan zones and watching around the world live,” said Putin. “I congratulate the whole big, strong, multi-national football family from all over the world and welcome to the beginning of the planet’s main football tournament.
“This great sports event is held in Russia for the first time and we’re extremely happy to host it. In our country football is not just the most popular sport, football is truly loved here and this love is called ‘Love at first Sight’, with the first official match that took place in Russia back in 1897.
“We have been responsibly preparing to host this wonderful event and we have done our upmost for fans, athletes and experts to immerse themselves in the atmosphere of a splendid football feast, and of course we hope they enjoy their stay in Russia, an open, hospitable and friendly country, and meet new friends – people with whom they share the same values."
Putin's comments came after a build-up to Russia 2018 that has been dogged by the reception that will await foreign fans, with particular attention on any hooliganism following the disgraceful scenes witnessed two years ago at the European Championship in France and also the treatment of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender [LGBT] people in the country.
“Let’s just think of it: we, the devoted fans of football, are so numerous where billions of people on our planet wherever we live, whatever traditions we hold, football brings us together in one single team and we are united by our affection for this spectacular, vibrant, uncompromising game and also players of these teams have a great degree of mutual understanding, a unity which cannot be affected by different language, ideology or faith. It represents the power of football and sport as a whole. The power of its humanistic beginning.
“Our duty is to preserve this power of humanity for generations to come for the sake of developing sports and strengthening peace and mutual understanding between people. I wish all the teams’ success and an unforgettable experience for the fans. Welcome to Russia.”
Putin was immediately followed by Infantino, who made the rather emphatic promise to “conquer” Russia and in turn “conquer the world” – though perhaps not in the same way that would have been used in the past in the capital city.
“Welcome to the Fifa World Cup here in Russia,” Infantino said. “As of today, for one month, football will conquer Russia and from Russia, football will conquer the world. Enjoy the biggest celebration on earth. Thank you President Putin, thank you Moscow, Spasibo [thank you] Russia.”
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