World Cup 2018: Saransk

World Cup 2018 has unveiled some deep pitfalls in the customer service industry across the Russian province. Some host cities, which have never faced such a massive tourism flow before, are far from being ready to host major international events.

I’ve been recalling the hype that was going around about Sochi before and after the Olympics 2014: the facilities were indeed being finished at the very last moment, but let’s face it – it’s a common story for any Olympics. Eventually, everything was complete – and my impression was that the final result was excellent (despite a few problems such as the ceiling fall in Marriott, or wherever that happened). However, Sochi had always been a resort, which might explain why it was easier to accommodate the city for hosting international guests during a global sports tournament.


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It’s been a totally different story with the locations selected for FIFA World Cup 2018. Quite a few of 11 host cities chosen for the event had never welcomed an international sports tournament before. The whole infrastructure had to be built from scratch, and the whole customer service  system – which, frankly, had never been a particularly strong point about Russia – had to be grown from its grassroots. This isn’t something that can be done in a couple of years – yet I’ve had a feeling that this is exactly how the local authorities have approached the matter.




The city of Saransk has given us quite a controversial impression so far. As much as we appreciated the friendliness of the local people, particularly hotel and restaurant staff, we had to spend a fair amount of our time and nerves fixing all the problems we have encountered. We have been staying in the Tavla complex right next to the stadium. Tavla is a set of buildings accommodating some LOC, HBS and Media staff during the tournament. Supposedly, they will be rented/sold as regular apartments once World Cup finishes. I sincerely hope they don’t keep them as hotel rooms, as it has been a fairly disheartening experience living in them as guests. The facilities are simply not ready, and the staff is barely coping with the number of people flowing into the accommodation each day. All restaurants and services across Saransk seem to have one and the same issue – they can’t handle the crowds coming in, barely anyone has the slightest idea of what’s going on, and it takes ages to get things done.

The Stadium itself, as well as all the living complexes around, has been built on the land that once used to be covered with swamps. Maybe that’s what explains the fact that occasionally the air around smells really badly. Still, there are families inhabiting these houses, there is a school, a kindergarden and a number of shops around, and hopefully this is now forming a genuine part of the city.




On the bright side, the center is small, clean and lovely. Many new buildings have been built in the past few years leading up to the tournament. There are a few picturesque spots such as the main Cathedral and the view on Insar River. People are very friendly and eager to help. The transport system does not seem to have improved much, but it is easy to walk pretty much everywhere.

Just for a general reference – Saransk is the capital of the Republic of Mordovia, an autonomous region within the Russian Federation. Its population, which consists of ethnic Mordovians, Tatars, Erzyans, Mokshans and Russians, reaches somewhat about 315,000 people.





We are approaching the day of Japan vs Colombia match, the one we’ve come here for. The previous clash held in Mordovia Arena transformed Saransk into the capital of Peru for a couple of days: there was somewhat between 30,000 and 50,000 Peruvians wandering along the streets. They were here to cheer on their national team playing their first World Cup match in 36 years – imagine their disappointment when they lost 0:1 to the Danish!




At the moment, we are expecting another flow from Colombia and Japan. Although it’s been reported that there would be fewer fans from both of these countries then from Peru alone, we’ll see about that tomorrow, though. Stay tuned!

Hold your breath – World Cup 2018 is about to begin!

The big day has come! The most awaited moment of the year is just a few hours away. FIFA World Cup 2018 is kicking off at 18.00 tonight with the host team facing Saudi Arabia.

At the moment I’m writing this post, the start list for Team Russia has not been announced yet. Such an intrigue – which does not seem like something that could crucially influence the team’s performance, to be honest. The general opinion is that our national team is most likely going to win, but the rivals will surely give them a hard time getting there.

I myself have had a wonderful morning on BBC World News Radio. I was invited as a guest to their morning programme, hosted by Ben James. It’s been my first-ever time on live radio – thrilling experience, I have to say! We discussed our expectations concerning the Russian national team, the changes which the tournament has brought to the country, the fate of the infrastructure built for the event, local people and food, and so on. Worth getting up at 5 a.m.!


By now you’ve surely seen tons of match previews and other analytical stuff on sports media, so I won’t be overloading you with more of it. Instead, I’d like to give you a flavour of the atmosphere around the tournament, as I have finally had a chance to take a walk around off my work hours.

The whole city center in Moscow seems to grow wilder and wilder, 24/7. Nikolskaya street, located next to the Red Square, has turned into some sort of Babylon. At night it gets so packed you can barely squeeze yourself in. Once you’re in there, you find yourself totally lost in the whirlpool of colour and sound. Fans from across the world screaming, shouting and singing at every corner, on every bench; flags hanging from walls and street lights; Mexican sombreros, horns, crazy outfits – you name it.



What I loved most about last night was this guy (nationality unidentified) dressed in this multi-flag gown singing Bésame mucho right beside GUM department store (the beautiful building facing the Red square). He had actually been singing something in Italian before this one, and switched to the Russian romance “Ochi Chyorniye” (“Black eyes”) afterwards. Check out the video and try singing along with the crowd – no worries if you don’t know the lyrics, as barely anyone did!


Will Russia make it?

According to public opinion polls conducted by Russian Public Opinion Research Center (VTsIOM), almost 20% of the Russian population think the national team will be knocked out on the group stage. The other 20% stay slightly more optimistic, as they expect Team Russia to make it to 1/8.

The poll was conducted over phone on May 31 this year, with 2000 respondents aged over 18 taking part.

These numbers seems to display a fairly positive picture when compared to the moods of football-savvy community. The poll conducted by, one of the largest and most viewed Sports Online portals on the Russian Internet, has shown that almost 50% of the website audience believe that the host team will fail on group stage. The knockout in 1/8 seems feasible for 35%.

Paired with public disbelief, the pressure from the media seems to be affecting the team worse then ever. The other day Artyom Dzyuba, the national team’s striker, came up with this emotional speech (quoted by Sport-Express):

There’s something I would like to say. I look at everything that’s been happening around. We’re surrounded by negativity. First of all, I would like to ask you to support us. The tournament has not started yet, but you are already behaving aggressively with us. Let’s finish the tournament, and then you can draw your conclusions. And then you will decide who, how and what. And now I ask the whole country to unite, because it is a festival, a football festival.

Millions will be cheering on us. And we’ve been plowing here for almost a month not to lose and fly out of the tournament. Like all other 32 teams, we dream of winning the tournament. But everything is getting solved gradually. Now our task is to make it out of the group and everyone needs support. We need to rally around the team. I am asking you to show a little respect for us. And we will respect you. Because we are one! And we do one thing! And if we stay parted, nothing will come out of it.

We are all preparing for the tournament, for us this is the most important event in life, and you seem to think that this is not the cvase! We need the support of the whole country. And we, for our part, will fight and put everything on the altar of victory!

However powerful these words may seem, frankly, there has been little intrigue around the fact that the majority of Russian fans have no delusions regarding the current national team’s potential. We’re just here waiting to host the biggest football festival on Earth – that’s what people are excited about. After all, there will be plenty of good games to watch – even having the national team knocked out all too soon.

Going back to the polls by VTsIOM, I have compressed some numbers in the infographics below. Enjoy!

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What is 8K?

In one of my previous posts I have mentioned that my job at FIFA World Cup 2018 has to do with 8K television. As far as I’ve discovered, there aren’t many people who know much about 8K so far – not even broadcasters! So this post is about 8K.

So, what is 8K Super-Hi Vision?

Basically, it’s the next generation of television systems, developed by the Japanese Broadcasting Corporation NHK. 8K video has 16 times the resolution of current HDTV and 4 times that of 4K television (I bet most people haven’t even seen 2K yet!). According to the official brochure that we’re sending around, this super high definition video combined with 22.2 multichannel sound will envelop the viewers and create the illusion that they are actually experiencing the scene by themselves.

At the moment, 8K technology is mainly aimed at all those big screens which are usually set outdoors or in giant cinema halls. NHK is launching its official 8K broadcasting this autumn, but it’s highly unlikely to bring them much profit in the nearest future, as few households will be able to afford the 8K TV set. According to Digital Trends, Sharp’s first 8K TV for “professional use” cost $133,000 in 2015. This year you might be able to purchase a set for $73,000. Sounds like a bargain, doesn’t it?

NHK started using 8K equipment for major sports events at the Rio 2016 Olympics and then tried it out in Russia at the FIFA Confederation Cup 2017. They are now filming a few major matches (and Team Japan of course!) at this World Cup, and the footage is being showcased at the 8K Television theatre in the Main Media Centre. The plan is to have the whole Tokyo 2020 Olympics fully broadcast in 8K. But will 8K be widespread enough by then?

The answer is, it’ll probably take quite long to become a common thing – most of us are still getting used to 2K and 4K formats. However, just as it has happened before to HD, it’s just a matter of time before 8K becomes a part of our daily digital reality.

I personally don’t consider myself a tech geek and wouldn’t really mind watching the games in good old HD, but 8K does look impressive – and the difference is drastic. Do check out this article on Digital Trends if you’d like to learn more about the technical specifications of Super-Hi vision – I don’t think I’d do a better job by telling it in my own words here.

If by any chance you are at IBC during World Cup – do pop in to check out our 8K Theatre, it’s fun! It’s located at NHK booth Pavilion 2 hall8.

Seat reservation: (or just walk in).

See you here!