Playing the game – Россия / Russia


Beer: Zhigulyovskoye

Origin: Samara, Russian Federation

Obtained: Carrefour, Poland

Rather like Russia itself, the foreboding can of Zhigulyovskoye is definitely the biggest beer in my Euro 2016 beer odyssey but is far from being the best. It was at one time almost the only beer brand available in the USSR. You have to grasp that, for most people in the former Soviet Union, beer is considered a sort of soft drink (Ukraine, for example, is the only country I know where Coca Cola bottles have the words ‘non-alcoholic drink’ written on them). As such, this is merely an easy-drinking prelude to a bit of vodka later on (though I won’t be going down that route). It apparently used to be ‘Viennese beer’ but this was changed for being considered too petit bourgeois by the communist authorities.

It very nearly didn’t make it in to my plans at all, and I considered some substitutes, hence I have a bottle of Polish Braniewo at home (a town on the border with Russia’s Kaliningrad exclave) and a bottle of the Belgian Cuvée Des Trolls, in reference to the Kremlin practice of employing armies of students to write pro-Russian comments across online message boards, in case you ever wondered where all those comments under Russia articles on The Guardian  website come from.

However, after going on somewhat of a cup run (Albanian, Icelandic and Hungarian beer all unexpectedly turned up in local shops) the prospect of collecting all 24 beers was really coming together. In the end it would’ve been too much for my Euro beers OCD to play them at left back (in the shop) and I picked one up as a small olive branch in the distant hope of peace (once Putin is either dead or in The Hague).

At risk of getting all political, I’ve been boycotting Russian products for about the last two and a half years. The reasons for this are a long story but centre chiefly on Russia’s various interventions in Ukraine, military and otherwise, since late 2013. Thus far I’ve boycotted the Winter Olympics (which was easy-I don’t know what most of those sports were), and the Formula 1 races, also in Sochi (more difficult for me as a long time F1 fan and Lewis Hamilton is the biggest sports sensation to come out of Stevenage the Boro).

It may be a naive idea to boycott an entire World Cup in 2018 but at present this is what I intend to do. Of course sport should not be mixed with politics, but to say that you have to understand that the whole reason the World Cup is going to Russia is for the purposes of Russian domestic politics. It is the same reason that Russia holds the Winter Olympics and F1, but also the same reason it dabbles, covertly or otherwise, in military conflicts in Georgia, Ukraine or Syria. Russia’s rulers have to provide diversions for the local population in order for its kleptocratic leadership to survive. These revolve variously around two themes, firstly the idea that Russia is a great power with international prestige, and that secondly, it is surrounded by chaotic US puppet democracies which have gone to shit. It doesn’t matter that neither of these are actually the case, as the Kremlin’s control of state media makes sure that this is how all but the most savvy Russians see the world. So in all honesty you can’t just shrug it off by saying ‘don’t mix politics with sport’, more like ‘sport is being used for political ends, do you want to recognise this fact or not?’. Most won’t bother and that’s up to them.



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