It was a World Cup largely without political controversy, held in a country accustomed to international criticism. At least that was the case until Sunday’s final game.
Protesters used the deciding match between France and Croatia to make a list of demands to the Russian government in front of an estimated television audience of more than one billion.
Four people, who later revealed themselves as members of punk rock outfit Pussy Riot, stormed the pitch of Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium dressed in police uniforms to protest the federal government’s treatment of political demonstrations.
The second half protest stopped play in its tracks as security dragged the individuals from the pitch, but not before one got a high five from French favourite Kylian Mbappé.
Pussy Riot soon admitted to the pitch invasion on social media, including a list of demands to free all political prisoners, stop illegal arrests at public rallies and allow political competition in the country.
The latest protest mars what had been an uneventful World Cup from a political standpoint. There had been domestic criticism during this year’s competition as the federal government attempted to use the spotlight of the World Cup to push through an unpopular increase to the retirement age. But internationally, sport had been the focus. That changed in the 52nd minute of Sunday’s final.
State media agency Tass reported that police detained three girls and a young man following the pitch invasion. The news service confirmed one of the detainees was Peter Verzilov – the husband of one of Pussy Riot’s members. The group remained in police custody.
It was not only the final which attracted attempts of disruption. According to Politico, Russian security services blocked close to 25 million cyberattacks and malicious information campaigns during the World Cup.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said to security forces on Monday in the wake of the tournament’s final that the government had successfully thwarted millions of hacker attempts.
“During the World Cup almost 25 million cyberattacks and other criminal attempts on Russia’s information infrastructure, connected in one way or another to the running of the football World Cup, were neutralized,” the president said in a Kremlin transcript.