Football fever raising temperature in Russia’s frozen Arctic
Football is warming up nomads in the Russian permafrost, where the mercury dips to uncharted territories
The cap’s unmistakable Barcelona logo peeks out from under the reindeer herder’s woolly hood.
His smiling eyes tell the story: World Cup football is coming to the yurts (tents of felt or skins with collapsible frameworks used by nomads) set up in the permafrost high above Russia’s Arctic Circle, where temperatures dip into uncharted territories.
Yamalo-Nenets is one of Russia’s richest regions, an area larger than France, but is home to just half a million people, who live the way their ancestors did for millennia.
Most locals reap no benefits from the wealth of oil and gas buried deep in the frozen tundra now driving Russia’s growth.
They lead a nomadic existence, their hands often covered in blood from the reindeer whose hides form their subsistence, and which dry on lines of string like wet laundry.
Reindeer blood is a staple of their diets and is gathered and drunk out of metal mugs. Its red colour is also the colour of the rubber ball children play with across the snow in their woolly deer-hide boots and mittens, bright traditional dresses worn over the top of deer-hide bodysuits.
A yellow belt speckled with other bright colours completes the outfit as the children aim the ball at a stick embedded in the snow, a form of football played according to their own fashion.
The snow will be there, hard and deep, when the World Cup is played for the first time in Russia from 14 June-15 July.
But the reindeer herders of one of the world’s most remote inhabited regions, beyond the reach of television signals, will be following it as best they can—through word-of-mouth reports from places with electricity lines.