World Cup Fans: Russian-Australians on 'vodka-drinking' stereotypes

Australia's Russian community hopes this year's tournament will show there’s much more to their culture.

'World Cup Fans' is a special SBS News series running in the lead up to the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia. It looks at the 32 qualifying countries through the eyes of their fans in Australia.

As Russia prepares to host the world's biggest sporting event, expats in Australia are also counting down the days.

In a small community hall in Sydney's west, Russian-Australians gather to observe ‘Maslenitsa’. It's a cultural celebration the week before Lent with plenty of wining, dining and dancing.

Russian-Australians celebrate the festival of 'Maslenitsa'.
Russian-Australians celebrate the festival of 'Maslenitsa'.
SBS News

Women dress in traditional costume, dancing to the sounds of an accordion player whose repertoire of tunes dates back centuries.

"The World Cup is very exciting for all our community who live in Australia and for all Russian people living around the world," Irina Simonian, a member of Australia's Russian community, told SBS News.

"We are very proud about the World Cup coming to our country and we want the whole world to enjoy everything Russians have to offer."

Among the rich tapestry of foods served is the humble pancake.

Pancakes being made for Maslenitsa.
Pancakes being made for Maslenitsa.
SBS News

Although Maslenitsa is a period of culture and cuisine, thoughts of football are never far away.

"My expectation that Russia will make more friendship with more countries so we can establish good collaboration, good connection with broader world communities," Marina Belkina, the NSW representative of the Russian-Australian Council, said.

More than one billion fans are expected to tune in just to watch the FIFA World Cup final on 15 July.

Australia's Russian community is looking forward to a tournament they hope may change stereotypes.

"Sure, we drink Vodka, but there's more to Russians than meets the eye," Sasha Duganov said.

"The first question I get is 'oh, you're Russian so you must drink Vodka and bears run around in the streets of Moscow’. It's the same when you [Australians] go there and they ask are there kangaroos jumping around the streets of Sydney?"

'There's more to Russians than meets the eye'.
'There's more to Russians than meets the eye'.
SBS News

Vera Poliansky is married to an Australian-born man and has made Australia her home since arriving in the 1980s. Although she admits to knowing very little about world football, the proud and buoyant Muscovite firmly believes the World Cup will be most beneficial.

"Russian people are so friendly," says Vera, a supporter of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

"The sport of football is everybody’s friend, and the World Cup thanks to Putin is a chance to celebrate whether you win or lose."

Across town on a suburban playing field, Russians are engaged in a friendly game of football. Despite the soaring temperatures on a typical summer's afternoon, the group of men gathered wouldn't be seen anywhere else.

It's a scene that has been replayed every weekend for the last 25 years.

Members of Australia's Russian community gather for a football match in Sydney.
Members of Australia's Russian community gather for a football match in Sydney.
SBS News

"When we came to Australia there was something missing so we organised a club and we haven't stopped playing," team member Vladimir Alter said.

He also believes the World Cup may provide a turning point to the perception of the Russian people.

"A lot of people just don't understand what Russian people are and what they represent.

"They don't understand the rich culture and history so it's very important for us to hold together as a community.

"To hold the World Cup is an opportunity for everyone to see Russia's historically, culturally.

"I think it will open many people's thoughts on our country."

The 2018 FIFA World Cup begins 15 June. SBS will broadcast the biggest games, including the opening match, semi-finals and final, live, free and in HD.

The World Game: World Cup 2018 match schedule and How to watch live.

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