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The hard road to Russia

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Nigeria’s players gather at half-time during the Russia 2018 World Cup Group D football match between Croatia and Nigeria at the Kaliningrad Stadium in Kaliningrad on June 16, 2018. Attila KISBENEDEK / AFP

It is every sports journalist’s ambition to cover the FIFA World Cup, a competition that brings together all the top reporters from across the world to the host nation. Apart from the on-the-field action, the journalist also has the opportunity of interacting with top football officials from across the world and build relationships that sometimes go way beyond sports.

And so, it is always with high expectations that the reporter looks forward to the World Cup otherwise called Coupe du Mundo by the Portuguese. But for the Nigerian fan or journalist, getting to Russia to cover the on-going championship has been an arduous task. There are many hurdles on the way to Russia, the first being the travels.

Nigeria has no direct flight to Russia and so anybody planning to go to the World Cup must first get to the chosen airline’s home country before embarking on the final leg of the trip to the World Cup.

Lamenting the hurdles on the way to getting to Russia, ThisDay Sports Editor, Duro Ikhazuagbe, who has covered the World Cup from Korea/Japan 2002, said, “this country is a vast nation with so many restrictions. But the worst part of the problems is getting to the venues.

“I left Lagos on Thursday on an Emirates Airline’s flight, which first took us on a seven-hour journey to Dubai, where we waited for another 11 hours on transit before we began a five-hour journey to St. Petersburg.

“Our first match against Croatia on Saturday (yesterday) was in Kaliningrad, which is a one hour 30 minutes journey by air, which cost $500. You cannot access Kaliningrad by road because to get to the city you go through three different countries, Belarus, Estonia and Lithuania and that requires a Shengen visa. So, your best bet is to fly to the venue.

“Some Nigerians, who came through Moscow are still there because they did not reckon with the additional cost of getting to Kaliningrad. But this is a fantastic country in terms of infrastructure and hospitality. The people are just wonderful.”

The Guardian gathered that some Nigerians, who arrived in St. Petersburg on Friday and decided to travel to Kaliningrad by road were forced to head back to St. Petersburg as the immigration officials at the Lithuania border turned them back.

A Nigerian resident in St. Petersburg, Amaechi Okoro, advised anybody coming to the World Cup to plan his internal travel itinerary well before embarking on the journey.

“Russia is a vast country, as big as the African continent with different time zones. So, one must know where and how to get to his destination before setting out on his trip. This country is in both Asia and Europe and sometimes you can fly up to eight hours within the country to get to another city. So, it is not where you start coming to blindly.”


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