The best way to describe the mission given to 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™ ambassadors is to share, show and inspire: they must share their excitement with the football world, show off the host country to locals and foreign visitors and inspire passion for the country and the sport of football.
“I believe that only people can fully express the significance of the World Cup in Russia and the culture, traditions and character of our country and its regions," explained Alexey Sorokin, CEO of the Russia 2018 Local Organising Committee (LOC). "We are fortunate that Russia has many individuals capable of meeting this challenge.”
Indeed, the ambassadors responsible for promoting Russia to 2018 FIFA World Cup visitors make for a truly star-studded line-up. Twelve individuals at the top of their professions have already joined the growing list. Leading the group as 2018 FIFA World Cup ambassador is Igor Akinfeev, Russia’s 29-year-old goalkeeper, who made his senior national-team debut aged just 18 and has remained a stalwart presence between the sticks ever since. Akinfeev has won five domestic league titles and the UEFA Cup with his club, CSKA Moscow, as well as making it to the semi-finals of the UEFA EURO 2008 with his country.
“Igor is a shining example of the best a man and a footballer can be," said Vitaly Mutko, Chairman of the LOC, while handing the goalkeeper his Ambassador’s Certificate. "A true professional, he is a thoroughly decent and honest guy, a natural captain and leader in any team that is fortunate enough to have him.”
“The Organising Committee’s offer was unexpected but I had no second thoughts and agreed instantly," said Akinfeev. "It’s a huge honour but also a massive responsibility. I will strive to live up to this role, on and off the pitch”.
Global sporting stars
In addition to Akinfeev, the best of Russian sport will also be represented by host city ambassadors, such as three-time Olympic champion, Natalia Ishchenko, and four-time Olympic champion, Alexei Nemov.
Ishchenko, the poster girl of Russian synchronised swimming, talked about the demands of success in her sport: “As a leader, you cannot rest on your laurels. You have to keep coming up with new things, be creative and stay at the top of your game.” Ishchenko also said she had no hesitation about becoming an ambassador for her home city of Kaliningrad.
Nemov, the gymnast and ambassador for Saransk, was recognised as ‘Athlete of the Year’ in 2000 by the Russian Olympic Committee. Nemov is known internationally not only for his medal haul but also his strong sense of fair play, such an important value in sport, which after the Athens 2004 Olympics saw him awarded the Pierre de Coubertin World Trophy by the International Committee for Fair Play.
Nemov is confident that tournament organisers and all Russians will rise to the occasion of hosting the prestigious competition. “There’s nothing overwhelming about it: Saransk will do a great job because our people understand the significance of the moment," Nemov said. "We will do everything we can to ensure that local residents and visitors who come to support their teams feel at home in our small and welcoming city."
Culture and Character
Alexander Popov, the swimmer and four-time Olympic gold medallist, and Varteres Samurgashev, the Olympic wrestling champion, are examples to the sporting stars of the future both in terms of their sporting achievements and their personal conduct.
Another ambassador is Pavel Datsyuk, a Yekaterinburg native and star of the ice hockey world, with two Stanley Cup triumphs making him an elite member of the National Hockey League. Datsyuk believes that 2018 will see Russia put on a spectacular festival of football for the whole planet: “I am delighted that Yekaterinburg will become part of football history by hosting World Cup matches. This is a huge achievement for our region.”
2018 World Cup ambassadors also come from outside the world of sport. The cultural representatives on the team have a strong Ekaterinburg core, with the city providing two musicians in the shape of singer Vyacheslav Butusov and composer Aleksandr Pantykin.
Other Host City ambassadors will be chosen before the start of Russia 2018 and, while some of them will be largely unknown outside Russia, the world should grow to know them better at the same time as the country they represent. Others will be so famous that they will draw the public’s curiosity to distant and unpronounceable Russian locations. In any case, promoting the tournament is just part of an ambassador’s responsibilities: their job is to be the country’s biggest fans and make millions of people fall in love with Russia.
2018 FIFA World Cup Russia Ambassador
Igor Akinfeev, footballer, goalkeeper for CSKA Moscow and the Russian national team
Host City Ambassadors:
Natalia Ishchenko, three-time Olympic champion in synchronised swimming
Alexei Nemov, four-time Olympic champion and Vice President of the Artistic Gymnastics Federation of Russia
Oleg Shatov, footballer, midfielder for Zenit St. Petersburg and the Russian national team
Alexander Popov, four-time Olympic swimming champion and First Vice-President of Russian Swimming Federation
Pavel Datsyuk, two-time Stanley Cup winner and world ice-hockey champion
Aleksandr Pantykin, Russian composer and playwright, winner of the Golden Mask National Theatre Award
Vyacheslav Butusov, rock musician, lead singer of Nautilus Pompilius and U-Piter
Anton Shipulin, Olympic champion and five-time biathlon world champion
Varteres Samurgashev, Greco-Roman wrestler, Olympic champion and two-time world champion
Dmitriy Dibrov, TV presenter
Victoria Lopyreva, TV presenter, Miss Russia 2003