As the curtain came down on the 2018 FIFA World Cup the general verdict was that the Russian hosts had excelled, both compared to many previous tournaments and certainly compared to expectations.
Some of the football was fantastic, the fans behaved almost impeccably, there were no drugs scandals (or none that we know about!) and the facilities were state-of-the-art. Or were they? We came across a brief film on the BBC website which shows a disabled football fan negotiating the best and worst that Russia had to offer as he travelled round the country and attended a match using his mobility scooter.
Paul, whose full name is not revealed, explains that he has a chronic nerve condition which causes pain in one of his legs if he moves too much.
He declined the opportunity to experience the additional pain which would have been inevitable had he tried to scoot into a subway using strips of metal placed as runners on a staircase. “Too dangerous!”, he declared.
The film shows Paul bumping along the cobbled streets and arriving at a metro station in Moscow, where four burly attendants tipped his scooter backwards and supported him as he travelled down an escalator. Then they carried him and his scooter down a flight of stairs.
Information supplied to the BBC crew insisted the heavyweight metro staff were available on a regular basis and free of charge to assist other wheelchair-users. The BBC reporter could only say: “This is quite astonishing!”
A Russian football fan who uses a wheelchair told the BBC: “It’s just a show for Europeans. In reality accessibility in Russia is much worse than they are trying to portray.”
Paul was impressed by the quality of a ramp which he used to gain access to a memorial and a shopping area, and with the number of ramps, lifts and people eager to help when he attended a stadium for one of the matches.
Federico Addiechi, FIFA’s Head of Sustainability and Diversity, told the BBC the total of 22,222 special access tickets sold for the World Cup – 64 matches in total – was a record, but that they had to live with the Russian infrastructure.
As the players of France and Croatia lined up for their anthems ahead of the final, spectators and viewers may have spotted one young fan in a wheelchair among the ranks of mascots. The BBC film concluded that the Russian authorities had tried hard to ensure good access at the tournament for all fans, but it posed the question of whether that commitment would continue after the final whistle.