On edge of Russia, World Cup viewing is for the diehard fan

VLADIVOSTOK, Russia (Reuters) - Pavel Ushanov is happy his country is hosting the soccer World Cup, but in terms of viewing experience he says the 2002 edition of the tournament in South Korea and Japan was better.

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That is because Ushanov lives in Vladivostok, a city on Russia’s Pacific Coast and seven time zones away from Moscow. When a late match kicks off in the capital, it is 4:00 am for Ushanov and his fellow residents. The time difference with Tokyo, by contrast, is only one hour.

“For people in (Russia’s) far east it was a lot more convenient in 2002,” said Ushanov, a professor at the Vladivostok State University of Economics and Service.

“Even though this tournament is in Russia, taking into account the time difference it’s not very convenient to watch the matches live: in the morning you have to go to work.”

The World Cup has gripped the imagination of millions of people in the European part of Russia, helped by the unexpectedly strong performance of the hosts and the colorful influx of fans whose exuberance has rubbed off on local people.

But Vladivostok is one example of the Russia beyond the World Cup. There are no World Cup matches taking place east of the Ural mountains, which separate the European part of Russia from the huge expanses that lie in Asia.

The nearest World Cup city to Vladivostok is in Yekaterinburg, a 7,200 km (4,500 miles) journey by car. Alternatively, a direct flight takes four hours and 35 minutes, or the train takes a few minutes short of five days.


But Vladivostok is not ignoring the World Cup. Fans have packed out sports bars that stayed open late to broadcast the matches.

For Sunday’s knockout game between Spain and Russia, all tables at Vladivostok’s “Penalty” bar were booked days in advance, with the only space left at the bar, an administrator said.

But football fever has not spread to the general population in the same way it has elsewhere in Russia.

The inaugural match of the tournament, between Russia and Saudi Arabia, kicked off early in Moscow, which meant it was a relatively civilised 1:00 am in Vladivostok. City authorities put up a big screen in the central square.

In a space that could accommodate several thousand spectators, only about 200 people showed up, huddled together wearing scarves and hats against the night-time cold.

“To be honest, on the streets of Vladivostok, you don’t get the feeling the World Cup is happening in our country,” said Vladimir Bespalov, a member of the regional legislative assembly.

Writing by Christian Lowe. Editing by Patrick Johnston