June 23, 2018

Suleiman Habuba loud on what makes Russia 2018 World Cup different

Suleiman Habuba loud on what makes Russia 2018 World Cup different

Suleiman Habuba

Suleiman Habuba is a former Director of Communications of the Confederation of African Football and now a football and business consultant. He is in Russia for the on-going FIFA World  Cup.  He is versed in football matters as he shares his views on the organisation of the on-going FIFA World Cup tournament in Russia. Excerpts

How would you describe your experience so far at the FIFA World Cup in Russia?

Great experience! From the first day at the airport, the immigration procedures went smooth with your Fan ID. No waste of time, thanks to the special dedicated queues for World Cup fans. One can see also World Cup branding within and outside the airports. Souvenir shops line up right outside airports. I was pretty impressed with the opening game in terms of organization and it was incident-free.

Suleiman Habuba

From the main entrance of the stadium, you could easily get access to your dedicated seat or VIP box without any challenges with the signage all over the place. The Spectators’ flow was fluid, and volunteers were full of smiles directing spectators to their positions. And at the end of the game, finding the exit was so easy and quick at the Luzhniki, a big Stadium with 81,000 seats. All gates are easily identifiable. As you know very well , ticketing and access to the stadium had always been a nightmare during major sporting events, and with the introduction of the Fan ID, it looks like black market tickets have become irrelevant.

What is this Fan ID all about?

The FAN ID contains all the relevant information of the bearer. The ticket and the Fan ID are scanned together so FIFA automatically knows the origin of the ticket and the person who used it. Regarding transportation, it is free of charge to the stadium when using the train, which takes you to the stadium. There is the option of a taxi within the city, but it could be a bit complicated with fares varying from driver to driver. Like in any other major city, you need to apply great negotiation skills, and to some extent if you sense a driver want to cheat, you can threaten to report to police in order to compel the driver to use the metre.

Do you speak Russian language?

Not at all. Taxi drivers use apps to translate text and audio to interpret. I am really impressed with the high level of organization put in place by the Local Organising Committee. I pray that it will continue to the final whistle.

What do you make of the Fan Fest in Russia, taking into account your experience of five FIFA World Cups including the age-category competitions?

Incredible celebrations across the whole country. Central Moscow breathes football. I mean the World Cup is 24-hours. Moscow does not sleep. The Moscow University Fan Fest can accommodate no less than 40 000 fans. There is one Official FIFA Fan Fest location in each city, making it 11 across the country. Reports indicate that more than 1 million fans have visited the fan fest within four days of the tournament. What I have seen at the fan fest is not only the football but also other forms of entertainment like musical concerts, etc.

How did this idea of FAN fest come to FIFA?

I think it all started at Japan-Korea 2002 World Cup, where fans gathered in large numbers to watch football matches. However, it was recognized officially by FIFA at the 2006 World Cup in Germany. And at the last world cup in Brazil, they were more than 5 million fans at the FIFA Fest. It has been a great idea.

There are reports of growing disunity among the new leadership at CAF. As a former Director of Communications, and expert on African football governance, what do you have to say about that?

No comments. There is a new leadership as you said and the African football family needs to support each other towards the development of the game on the continent, what matters to the fans.

Morocco failed in their bid for the hosting rights of the 2026 FIFA World Cup. Isn’t it disastrous seeing an official Bid Ambassador not voting for Morocco? And from no less a country like Guinea, whose pioneer president Sekou Toure was a great Pan-Africanist.

Morocco as country must be commended for demonstrating high level of sportsmanship, by coming out within hours after losing to The United Bid, and announced that the Kingdom will bid again for the 2030 World Cup. The President of Royal Moroccan Football Federation must also be congratulated for taking the stage right after the announcement to concede defeat and congratulate The United Bid. I think, Africa as a continent deserves to host in the near future our second FIFA World Cup on the African soil. The Korea-Japan 2002 FIFA World Cup has supported the development of football in Japan. Likewise, the 1994 edition in USA immensely contributed to the development of football in the United States. Football has the power to transform not only on the field of play but off the pitch as well. This week, in Geneva at 38th Session of UN Human Rights Council, the Secretary General of the Supreme Committee for 2022 World Cup Delivery in Qatar, Hassan Al- Thawadi , said because of the transformation power of sport, migrant workers would be reimbursed recruitment fees paid to agents. So far it’s about 12 million dollars, a direct result of sport diplomacy, driven by organisers of the 2022 World Cup.

Any idea on the number of Volunteers ?

I learned that more than 17,000 volunteers have been enrolled to support the organization of the World Cup in 20 different areas. Seven per cent are coming from 112 countries, and the oldest is 80. It’s really great. I am so fascinated about volunteer programmes because I started my career in sports as volunteer, and today one of the top board members of the Nigerian Football Federation (NFF) was working with us as a volunteer in 1999 during the FIFA U-20 World Cup hosted in Nigeria. At the time, I was the Deputy Editor of the Agence France-Presse (AFP) Office in Nigeria. My favourite quote in sharing knowledge in volunteering program is from former United States President, John F. Kennedy who said: “ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country”. It also goes also for what one can do for his continent and humanity.

In Kaliningrad, the organization was also excellent. The stadium is the smallest amongst the 12 stadia, with about 35,212 seats. We bumped into a Russian group of fans, who directed us to the stadium. Once you are at the stadium, volunteers are there to assist, easy movement in and out of the stadium. There is entertainment around stadium with dedicated transport to the Fan Fest. At the Kaliningrad Stadium, we met a Nigerian who had challenges with his Fan ID and together with an NFF official, we went to the Fan ID center located at stadium , the issue was sorted out within minutes . Very smart team of volunteers.

And did you enjoy the Nigeria vs Croatia game?

Oh. Not so good. I hope the Nigerians will make it in the next game. The potential is there. I watched the first half seated opposite the VIP Tribune. In the course of the game, after the opening goal by Croatia, I realized that I was amongst the Croatia supporters. I had to change my seat to stay with Nigerian supporters after getting a new ticket from the NFF. And I was not also conformable with people selling drinks inside the spectators stand during the game , it was blocking my view . Sadly, the final result was not in favour of Nigeria. Arriving at the Super Eagles hotel, at 1 am, the staff of the hotel was kind to serve food despite the fact that the restaurant was closed and only room service was available. I was not staying at that hotel but the staff pointed out that since I was here for the World Cup, they would make food available for me. That is the power of the FIFA World Cup and Russian hospitality.