WHERE KINGS AND PRESIDENTS MEET
01
For a month author SERGEY NIKOLAEVICH analysed the way
in which
usually restrained politicians and heads of state supported their teams.
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appeared on a regular basis. What did they do? How did they react to the goals scored? How did they behave when their national team was losing – or indeed when it was winning?

The beauty of football is that it is a great leveller, abolishing the social hierarchy for at least 1.5-2 hours. A business executive enters the stand in a neat suit all buttoned up and leaves, more often than not, sweating, frequently without the jacket on, tie pulled to one side and eyes ablaze with the powerful emotions just experienced.

Football, like no other sport, allows for feelings to be expressed. It takes you over, forcing you to live in the very moment. Nothing depends on you any more, neither your national team's victory, nor its failure. All you can do is try to enjoy the game.
The presidents come
together before the final:
French President
EMMANUEL MACRON,
FIFA President
GIANNI INFANTINO,
Russian President
VLADIMIR PUTIN
and Croatian President
KOLINDA GRABAR-KITAROVIĆ.
Тhe seating areas where they congregated would not necessarily grab your attention. In fact, many fans were unaware of where they even sat or what went on there. Nevertheless, during the month-long FIFA World Cup, the VIP area was often an intriguing focal point as various state leaders appeared on a regular basis. What did they do? How did they react to the goals scored? How did they behave when their national team was losing – or indeed when it was winning?

The beauty of football is that it is a great leveller, abolishing the social hierarchy for at least 1.5-2 hours. A business executive enters the stand in a neat suit all buttoned up and leaves, more often than not, sweating, frequently without the jacket on, tie pulled to one side and eyes ablaze with the powerful emotions just experienced.

Football, like no other sport, allows for feelings to be expressed. It takes you over, forcing you to live in the very moment. Nothing depends on you any more, neither your national team's victory, nor its failure. All you can do is try to enjoy the game.
he seating areas where they congregated would not necessarily grab your attention. In fact, many fans were unaware of where they even sat or what went on there. Nevertheless, during the month-long FIFA World Cup, the VIP area was often an intriguing focal point as various state leaders
appeared on a regular basis. What did they do? How did they react to the goals scored? How did they behave when their national team was losing – or indeed when it was winning?

The beauty of football is that it is a great leveller, abolishing the social hierarchy for at least 1.5-2 hours. A business executive enters the stand in a neat suit all buttoned up and leaves, more often than not, sweating, frequently without the jacket on, tie pulled to one side and eyes ablaze with the powerful emotions just experienced.

Football, like no other sport, allows for feelings to be expressed. It takes you over, forcing you to live in the very moment. Nothing depends on you any more, neither your national team's victory, nor its failure. All you can do is try to enjoy the game.
The presidents come together before the final: French PresidentEMMANUEL MACRON, FIFA President GIANNI INFANTINO, Russian President VLADIMIR PUTIN and Croatian PresidentKOLINDA GRABAR-KITAROVIĆ.
As is required of the President, Vladimir Putin attended the World Cup twice: for the Opening Ceremony and ensuing match, in which Russia comfortably beat Saudi Arabia, and the final, where France faced Croatia. Before the first match, he welcomed the guests of the "legendary Luzhniki Stadium". According to Putin, football in Russia was "not just a very popular kind of sport. Our people really love it. In fact, it was love at first sight, dating back to 1897 when Russia hosted its first official match," the Russian President recalled.

Although Putin's attention was drawn to the national team's game, his position forced him to behave with the utmost correctness given the high-ranking guests sharing the N1 skybox with him. It was very touching to observe the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammad bin Salman, becoming increasingly sad and Vladimir Putin increasingly considerate. When the referee blew for full time moments after Russia had gone 5-0 up, Putin simply gave his guest a polite reassuring gesture. "What can one do, Your Highness? That's football!"

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev tried to attend every important World Cup match involving the national team, including the eagerly awaited last-16 fixture against Spain, when he was joined by his wife and children. The Russian mass media took this to be a good omen, and there was a feeling that Medvedev's presence would continue to bring the team good luck. Alas, defeat in their next outing, the quarter-final against Croatia, proved otherwise.

Crown Prince
MOHAMMAD BIN SALMAN
and President
VLADIMIR PUTIN
try to keep their feelings
under control at the
RUSSIA-SAUDI ARABIA
match
Crown Prince MOHAMMAD BIN SALMAN and President VLADIMIR PUTIN try to keep their feelings under control at the RUSSIA-SAUDI ARABIA match
Russia's Deputy Prime Minister for Social Affairs Olga Golodets also attended a number of matches. She has long been a frequent spectator at various ballet and theatre performances. Since the New Year, she has been in charge of sports development in Russia, making her responsible for football and its related activities.

"This World Cup was a turning point in football development in our country," she said in one of her interviews. "Our national team not only achieved its best result of all time, it also united the whole country."

Of course, FIFA President Gianni Infantino was a very frequent face at the World Cup matches: he visited each of the 12 venues at least once and also watched all 32 participating teams at least once — often accompanied by exuberant heads of state.

"What did you discuss with them?" journalists regularly asked the FIFA President after matches.

"We discussed football and life in general. As the games unfolded, I occasionally had to console some of them. But if I told one of them that their team was sure to win, the other would have been offended. So, I felt like the referee on the pitch! One has to be fair, but also magnanimous. Even if my neighbours in the skybox were royalty or presidents, they were, first and foremost, people. They suffered the way we all do, they wanted a good laugh but to be happy with the result like everybody else."
Russian Prime Minister
DMITRY MEDVEDEV
celebrates Russia's
victory with his wife
SVETLANA and
Vice Premier
OLGA GOLODETS
Russian Prime Minister DMITRY MEDVEDEV celebrates Russia's victory with his wife SVETLANA and Vice Premier OLGA GOLODETS
The presence of royalty at the matches is a special feature of the World Cup. For instance, no one expected Philippe, King of Belgium, to come to Russia twice to support his national team. He brought his sons, Prince Gabriel and Prince Emmanuel, to attend the match against Tunisia, and his consort Queen Mathilde to the third place play-off. It is notable that after the World Cup, on the eve of a national holiday, the King addressed his people with an impassioned speech in which he called the Belgium national team's bronze medal one of the main achievements of his 5-year reign. "The Red Devils implemented our motto beautifully: Unity makes strength," he said.

The King of Spain Felipe VI was a lot less fortunate, having to witness his country's defeat against Russia. One can only marvel at his royal composure, when, after Koke had his penalty shootout effort saved by Russian goalkeeping hero Igor Akinfeev, King Felipe maintained a polite smile until the very end of the match. Furthermore, he was generous enough to go to the dressing room after the match and console his team. That is, after all, something real kings should do: stay with their people in joy and sorrow. Proud and tall, inscrutable and majestic and at the same time cheerful and sincere - this is the way we shall remember the King of Spain at the Luzhniki Stadium at the 2018 FIFA World Cup.
King
FELIPE VI
of Spain cannot hide
his disappointment.
Did his team really just lose?
GIANNI INFANTINO
can do nothing to
console his majesty
King FELIPE VI of Spain cannot hide his disappointment. Did his team really just lose?GIANNI INFANTINO can do nothing to console his majesty
However, the visit of Japan's Hisako, Princess Takamado was probably the most sensational. No member of the Japanese Imperial Family had ever visited Russia in the previous 102 years. The reasons behind that are intrinsically linked with Russian-Japanese relations. But football proved a genuine peacemaker as well as an effective diplomat. Hisako, Princess Takamado, is the Honorary Patron of the Japanese Football Association and has attended every World Cup since 1998. This time, she accompanied her national team right throughout tournament, from Saransk to Ekaterinburg and Volgograd... Precise and punctual, as the Japanese are famous for, the always smiling and calm Princess usually arrived at the government skybox before everybody else. One amusing anecdote: she always wore modest earrings and a pearl necklace stylised as miniature footballs.
King PHILIPPE of Belgium
is joined by his sons
Prince GABRIEL
and Prince EMMANUEL
as his national team
take on Tunisia
King PHILIPPE of Belgium is joined by his sons Prince GABRIEL and Prince EMMANUEL as his national team take on Tunisia
However, there are instances of state leaders deliberately ignoring the comfort and security of the N1 skybox. The Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović not only took an economy class flight to Russia, but also joined the fans in the stands during the round-of-16 match against Denmark. Furthermore, she was the only state leader who regularly shunned formal attire to wear a replica national team shirt during the World Cup, even donning it for the final. Who could have done more to promote their team and country than the Croatian President!

The most eye-catching spectacle concerning Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović occurred during the final, when she found herself in the N1 skybox alongside French President Emmanuel Macron. Rarely have state leaders supported their teams with such gusto. Macron even took off his jacket. Both he and the Croatian President simply could not remain seated, jumping up from time to time to shout something in their own language that could not be understood by the other. Yet they gave each other a warm embrace with every goal scored.
A high-ranking patron
and supporter of the
Japanese national team,
HISAKO, princess
TAKAMADO, never goes
anywhere without
her camera
A high-ranking patron and supporter of the Japanese national team, HISAKO, princess TAKAMADO, never goes anywhere without her camera
And this, of course, is what makes football so special. A packed stadium, full of cheering, shouting fans whipped up into a frenzy like the sea during a Force 5 gale! Where could the leaders hide from all that energy cascading down in waves from the stands, from the spotlights blinding their eyes? There was so much passion and excitement in that final match, with everyone transfixed by the action until the very last minute.

Then it started to rain – heavy torrential rain – but it seemed none of the dignitaries who had come onto the pitch for the award of the prestigious World Cup trophy noticed it. The soggy conditions made the award ceremony look like a scene from a Hollywood action film. The respective presidents exchanged embraces with players on both sides, all of them brothers, of the same flesh and blood. It was perhaps the most sincere and informal denouement in FIFA World Cup history. Even the handkerchiefs were wet. Maybe from the rain, maybe from the tears. Maybe a combination of the two.

... On leaving the N1 skybox, Vladimir Putin was approached by journalists asking questions such as: "Do you feel like a winner?"

The President did not answer. He only smiled wearily. He probably did.
The passion of the final:
EMMANUEL MACRON
celebrates,
KOLINDA GRABAR-KITAROVIĆ
wears a worried look.
The passion of the final: EMMANUEL MACRON celebrates, KOLINDA GRABAR-KITAROVIĆ wears a worried look.