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The soccer World Cup has barely started, but it's already created a moral dilemma for some.

Ukrainian artist Andriy Yermolenko made a series of "alternative promo posters" for the soccer World Cup now unfolding in Russia, replete with blood, skulls and dead babies.

Despite the Russia-centered political storm, which has convinced many Americans that Russia tried to undermine U.S. democracy, Americans bought the most tickets to the World Cup of any foreign nation: 88,825.

But the sports fans visiting Russia despite warnings of anti-Western sentiment, homophobia, racism and rampant crime inevitably will see more than just the soccer games or the propaganda facade Putin would like them to see.

Unlike Olympics, held at a handful of heavily guarded easy-to-monitor locations, big soccer tournaments are wide-open affairs. The current World Cup is played in 11 Russian cities, from the Kaliningrad exclave on the Baltic Sea to Yekaterinburg in the Ural mountains. Some Australian, Chinese and Japanese fans took the Trans-Siberian railroad to get to Russia's European part, where the World Cup is played.

There and everywhere, fans have been exposed to an unadorned version of Russia. Despite the many attempts to spruce things up (including the jails) for the event, many fans will witness cramped, barely furnished apartments renting out for a fortune on Airbnb. They'll brave the potholes on Russian roads, fly rickety planes on local routes, and ride the shabby but convivial trains. German fans will encounter youths with mocking Nazi salutes, and the Brits will be asked disbelievingly about the Skripal poisoning affair.

There's no way to build a Potemkin village big enough to deceive the visitors about what Russia is really like; Leonid Brezhnev had a much better chance at that with the 1980 Olympics.

Those who have compared the World Cup with the 1936 Olympics, held when German Jews were already being stripped of citizenship and after their businesses had been Aryanized, should keep in mind that Russia isn't about to launch a version of the Holocaust or a world war. It's a country teetering between closing down to the world and staying as open as it became in the 1990s. It can be both ugly and welcoming, sometimes at the same time. And in any case, it's not adequately represented by its leaders, as anyone will find out even after a few days spent going to soccer games.

Editorial on 06/20/2018

Print Headline: As the World Cup turns

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