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Host Country Russia Is Excited For World Cup Action To Begin


FIFA, the international governing association for soccer, has announced this morning that the 2026 World Cup is going to be played in North America. A joint bid from Canada, Mexico and the United States beat out a bid from Morocco. Right now, though, fans are focused on this year's cup, which begins Thursday in Russia. Thirty-two teams are going to spend a month competing in the tournament. As NPR's Lucian Kim reports from Moscow, Russians are anxiously awaiting the kickoff, though not everyone is happy about it.


LUCIAN KIM, BYLINE: The main campus of Moscow State University is located in Sparrow Hills, a leafy haven in a hectic metropolis. Students are cramming for exams. But in a few days, thousands of screaming soccer fans will break the peace. Nadya, a biology major, objects to the giant fan zone being constructed behind the university's main building.

NADYA: (Speaking Russian).

KIM: She says the fan zone won't affect just students but also research labs, a nature preserve and her own graduation ceremony. Nadya asked me to use only her first name because her activism could have repercussions. The authorities have cracked down against the slightest dissent. After a World Cup sign was defaced recently, two students were arrested while they were taking an exam, and a third was threatened with criminal charges. But for some people, the idea of a fan zone next door sounds like a dream.

ALEXANDER SHPRYGIN: (Speaking Russian).

KIM: "I'm a soccer fan. If I had a fan zone below my window, I wouldn't be opposed." That's Alexander Shprygin, a former soccer hooligan whom I met in the appropriately named Brawler's Pub. Shprygin is the head of a fan association whose activities were suspended after a massive fight between England and Russia fans at a match in Marseille, France, two summers ago.


KIM: After the street battle, Shprygin was kicked out of France and barred from attending the Confederations Cup in Russia last year. He says he hasn't even bothered applying for a fan ID for the World Cup and knows other fans who have been called in and warned to stay out of trouble.

SHPRYGIN: (Speaking Russian).

KIM: "Now the FSB, the Federal Security Service, is dealing with the fans. That's because the World Cup is a personal project of our president, and a lot is at stake."

Eight years ago, when Russia's World Cup bid won, Vladimir Putin was so excited to receive the honor, he even spoke English, which he hardly ever does.


PRESIDENT VLADIMIR PUTIN: From bottom of my heart, thank you.

KIM: Putin promised that everything would be prepared to perfection.


PUTIN: We are eager to do our best to secure the comfort and safety of our guests.

KIM: Russia's law enforcement agencies have heard their orders. Anton Gusev, a police general in charge of World Cup security, says cops will show leniency towards small infractions but act toughly against any serious violations.


ANTON GUSEV: (Through interpreter) Of course, we know a lot and are carrying out preventative measures. We're working so that bad ideas aren't put into action.

KIM: Retired hooligan Shprygin says he's confident there will be no repeat of the violence in France because of the heavy police presence.

SHPRYGIN: (Speaking Russian).

KIM: "All the soccer hooligans in Russia aren't waiting for the World Cup to start. They're waiting for it to end as soon as possible so they can get back to their normal lives." That's something Russia's most violent fans and Moscow students can agree on.

Lucian Kim, NPR News, Moscow.


Lucian Kim
Lucian Kim is NPR's international correspondent based in Moscow. He has been reporting on Europe and the former Soviet Union for the past two decades.