Bugs on the Eastern Front Terrorize World Cup
General Mud and General Winter have long been the defenders of the Russian Motherland from foreign invaders, or so the mythology goes. Perhaps its time to add General Insect, as the World Cup is finding out in Russia.
City officials have reportedly been spraying Volgograd Arena and the nearby marshlands with insecticide for the last few days, to little avail. Apparently bugs are a regular feature of the Volgograd summer, due to warm air and fertile breeding grounds in the Volga River. But no one seems to have issued any particular advance warning to the visitors who came to watch England’s 2-1 victory over Tunisia in the first World Cup match in this city, in the Russian southeast.
If the situation was untenable during the day on Monday, when the temperatures climbed into the 90s, it certainly improved by the time the game started, at 9 p.m. But the bugs were still there, at times deploying their own kind of teamwork by massing together and attacking as a unit.
Players could be seen waving their arms futilely in front of their faces during play. So could many fans, who were not allowed to bring liquids into the stadium and had to go bug spray-less. A reporter for a German TV station resorted to protective netting around her head.
No one was happy (except maybe the bugs themselves, with all those new victims in town). Presumably, Tunisians are as discomfited by insects to the same degree as English people are. But characteristically, the English news media interpreted the situation as a kind of national affront disproportionately affecting its own players — and its own reporters.
The Sky correspondent Kaveh Solhekol, for instance, tweeted that he had to abort a live broadcast at the last minute after being swarmed by “an invasion of flies” outside the England team’s hotel.
— ITV News (@itvnews) June 18, 2018
The bugs, a frequent issue in the city, are so prevalent that helicopters have been deployed to spray insecticide on Volgograd Arena, the site of four games over the course of the tournament. The choppers will also spray marshlands on the outskirts of the Volga River, which flows through the city.
How bad is it?
“They are on your face, stick to your lips, get inside your nostrils, your ears and your hair,” BBC Sport’s Natalie Pirks said. “I’ve had to debug myself at bedtime as you find dead ones you’ve splatted in the strangest of places.”