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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Russia's Wealthy Soccer Tourists

For Igor, a young Moscow businessman, splashing out $5,300 on the World Cup soccer finals in the United States was no problem, and while many other fans complained about the lackluster quality of many of the games, he thought it worth every penny.


"After this I plan to go to at least another 10 World Cup championships," said Igor, 29, who asked for his last name to be withheld, speaking after his return home earlier this week. "In any case I am definitely going to England for the European Cup in 1996 and to France for the 1998 World Cup."


Igor is among a small but growing number of Russian soccer fans with the means and determination to travel the world in pursuit of the sport. Russia's national team director Nikita Simonyan put the number of Russian supporters following their team through the United States this summer at between 1,500 and 2,000.


"At previous World Cups, the best you could hope for would be a hundred or so officials from the Soviet Sports Committee. It was always disappointing to go out and play without hearing your fans," said Simonyan, who has been on the national squad, first as a player, then coach and now director, since 1958.


"This time out on the field our team could actually hear the yells of 'Shaibu, shaibu!'" he said, speaking of a popular chant. "And that really helped."


It was not helpful enough to propel Russia beyond the first round, however, and many supporters considered their national side's performance dismal.


Valery Lebedev, who runs his own business in Volgograd, said he and his brother had shelled out $3,700 each to go to Los Angeles for the Russia-Brazil game. They were so disappointed by Russia's 2-0 defeat, that they skipped the Russia-Cameroon game in Detroit -- which Russia won 6-1.


"It had always been my dream. It always hurt in the past when it was impossible to go to the World Cup," Lebedev said. "In the stadium it looks so different from what you see on TV."


The price for a Russian fan to go to the U.S games ranged from between $2,500 to $4,000 for the first round matches to around $ 5,300 for the finals, according to the managers of the Roza Vetrov and Intertours agencies, the two main Russian firms dealing with sports tourism.


"Most of our clients were rich Russians, who run their own business -- people who could afford to pay those huge sums by Russian standards," said Olga Sychyova, a manager at Roza Vetrov, which arranged World Cup tours for 230 Russians. "We hadn't expected as many," she said.


Viktor Khorkov, 38, an employee of Russian-Austrian metal joint venture, said he spent around $12,000 to take his wife and son to see Russia play in the first round.


"When I used to watch the World Cup on television I never imagined there would be a chance to go and see it all myself," he said.


Lebedev complained that Russian fans did not have enough experience in the art of international football supporting. "Those Brazilian fans wore a national uniform and even painted their faces yellow and green. All we had was our flag. But give us time."