In short, I had to photograph people whether in action or out of it, and people being my first love in photography, I was obviously hooked. Getting to the World Cup as a FIFA accredited photographer was easier said than done. It involves a long process and a longer waiting period. The reason is simple, in the football world, India lags way behind. With 32 participating nations and more than 200 participating nations in the preliminary stage, the queue to get into the biggest stage was long. But I did get the much-needed accreditation from FIFA and boy, was I excited.
Russia as the host country was in the news for all the wrong reasons, and some countries including England were already clamoring for a boycott. Naturally, there were a few apprehensions in my mind as I boarded the flight from New Delhi headed for Moscow. But soon as I landed, almost a week before the actual opening, all trepidation disappeared. Over the next six weeks, Russia embraced me as it did millions of football fans across the globe.
Russia is a country of contrast, often misunderstood, but a country of warm-hearted people who opened their heart out to strangers. Not without reason, the World Cup of Football is known as the platform that brings together people from different walks of life, a tournament that assembles fans right across the globe, and wasn’t I excited to be part of it!
Having made Russia my home for almost six weeks, the experiences were varied and far too many. But mostly they were pleasant ones. The people in general, despite the language barrier, are very helpful. I would often wander off in search of a place and someone or the other would invariably come to my rescue pointing me in the right direction.
I crisscrossed the country from Brazil’s training camp on the Black Sea coast of Sochi to the historic city of Kazan, St. Petersburg in the north when in the height of summer I experienced what was called the ‘white nights’ when the sun almost did not set. Moscow, of course, was charming. During the world cup, it seemed like a city which didn’t sleep.
The highlights of my tour would obviously be coming in close proximity to football superstars like Lionel Messi, Ronaldo or Neymar. I also had exclusive access to the England training camp in the outskirts of St Petersburg.
The challenges were keeping pace with the hectic schedule as the world cup involved a lot of traveling. Often I would have to cover a match in St Petersburg one day and immediately travel to Moscow, almost 600 km away, for another match the next day.
Football grew on me slowly but surely. I started to understand the game and even enjoy it. As a photographer, it is important to pre-empt a move or a goal scoring opportunity and midway through the tournament I was quite confident. The fans from all corners of the globe were inspirational and many had such interesting stories to share.