From WC to air races: what sports capital of Russia waits for

Ten top events for Tatarstan in 2018

From WC to air races: what sports capital of Russia waits for Photo: Maksim Platonov

2018 will probably become for Tatarstan one of the busiest year from a sports perspective and certainly the brightest and mass from a perspective of sports fans per capita and media coverage. The upcoming Football World Cup that Kazan will host together with other Russian cities is the 'cause' of it. However, this year has not only the WC. World 'water' forums, competition of Tatarstan Olympians in South Korea, Ak Bars is in the hunt for the third Gagarin Cup and other events that no sports fan can miss. Realnoe Vremya's sports staff presents their full list.

Football World Cup

It's, undoubtedly, the most important event of not only this year but four years and not only in Tatarstan but around the globe. It's known that the most part of the planet's population will watch at least one match during the month the WC lasts. For instance, over 3,5 billion viewers watched the world tournament during the Brazilian championship. So it won't be possible to overestimate the importance, scale and media coverage of this event as much as one would like (nobody does, in fact).

Residents of Tatarstan and nearest regions already managed to evaluate last summer what it was to be in the centre of world football for several days. The atmosphere of the international football festival that is incomparable with any other forum took place in Kazan in June and July last year during the 2017 Confederations Cup. However, even that atmosphere of a real carnival in the city that crazy Chileans and Mexicans created has nothing to do with how 11 cities of Russia will transform from 14 June to 15 July 2018.

It's already known that Kazan will host such cool matches as France – Australia, Spain – Iran, Poland – Colombia, while the reigning world champions and winners of the Confederations Cup Germany will play against the Korean republic at Kazan Arena. And with lucky 1/8 final (for citizens of Kazan and those who are ready to go to watch football to the capital of Tatarstan) that Kazan will host, the national teams of Argentina and Brazil can meet. They are the crème de la crème of world football whose meeting is worth a final. So we wait for summer and start to prepare for probably the brightest adventure in our life right now. It will be unforgettable!

It's, undoubtedly, the most important event of not only this year but four years and not only in Tatarstan but around the globe. Photo: fifa.com

Tatarstan athletes at Olympic Games in Pyeongyang

It's another world sports forum that takes place once in four years. The topic of allowance of Russian athletes to the upcoming Winter Olympics has already frayed people's nerves and generated terabits of debates on the Net and talks in reality. The outcome was a compromise – the Russians will fly to Pyeongyang anyway but without their own anthem and flag.

From 7 to 9 Tatarstan athletes (depending on how many hockey players head coach of the national team Oleg Znarok will field) are to go to Korea among the 'Russian Olympians'. At the moment, we don't know whether Vladimir Tkachev and Andrey Markov will go to the 'white Olympics' but we're certain whom we can and should wait for Olympic medals from: Evgenia Tarasova who is one of the strongest figure skaters in the world today and competes in pair skating and certainly the best in Europe is to get her silver and even gold if she performs at her level.

Skier Andrey Larkov is also a candidate for medals, while one will be able to support Vladislav Khadarin in the slalom on steep Pyeongyang slopes. ''For instance, same Andrey Larkov, he is a silver medallist of the world championship,'' Tatarstan Deputy Sports Minister Khalil Shaikhutdinov shared his expectations of the Olympics with Realnoe Vremya's reporter in December. ''Evgenia Tarasova is a bronze medallist of the world championship and European champion, she has recently won the tournament. Vladislav Khadarin also won a World Snowboard Cup stage. We have leading athletes, in general.''

We wait February and support ours!

And another big question is what Tatarstan wants more – Barses' victory in KHL or a game of the Russian national team in the football world championship. Photo: ak-bars.ru

Fight of Ak Bars for 2017/2018 Gagarin Cup

It's the first and major event on our list that is directly linked with club sport and the most expected by sports fans of Tatarstan no less than the arrival of the WC. And another big question is what Tatarstan wants more – Barses' victory in KHL or a game of the Russian national team in the football world championship. Right this year Ak Bars has finally everything to really fight for the main trophy of the Kontinental Hockey League – Gagarin Cup.

Bosses of the Kazan club and the regional administration, let's face it, seriously bet on this jubilee season. An intensive job on team making speaks about it. Ak Bars has been strengthened better in the last 5 years. NHL long-liver Andrey Markov who perfectly knows Bilyaletdinov's hockey switched to the team in summer, long-awaited favourite of Tatarstan fans Danis Zaripov dramatically returned, powerful foreigners were gathered at the club. But it's half the battle.

The preparation of its own homebred stars who were carefully and gradually brought up to get real top-class masters right for the 2017/2018 season was more important and complicated. Former hockey players of its own academy as well as that of Bars, Irbis and Neftyanik from Almetyevsk Artyom Lukoyanov, Emil Garipov, Albert Yarullin, Damir Musin and Vladimir Tkachev are playing not the latest roles in the squad of the Barses. Yarullin with Markov have gigantic playing time and defend a half of the match in regulation periods. Tkachev remains the best Russian forward in terms of shot accuracy, and big hopes in the next play-off of the Gagarin Cup after the Olympics will be pinned on him.

Much is bet on Ak Bars to lose this spring without reason. It is the case when people say: ''When, if not now?'' We wait for spring and keep fingers crossed observing for the fight of the Barses for the Cup against monster teams. It's an important detail that the first gold medal of Ak Bars will be 20 years in 2018 spring.

Neftekhimik will certainly complete not as extra but a real candidate for a win in the conference for the first time in play-off history. Photo: hcnh.ru

Neftekhimik in play-off not as extra

The question where it all will bring to concerns minds of Russian hockey fans more while Andrey Nazarov's Neftekhimik gathers speed during the KHL regular season. Initially, the team from Nizhnekamsk was supposed to be a candidate to reach the SHL by KHL's famous rating. But now people are ready to give them the main prize of the major opening of the season and make a candidate for the final of the Eastern Conference.

It's the main intrigue of the hockey year – whether Nizhnekamsk will be able to go through the decisive battle in the Eastern Conference with Ak Bars and show an epic long fight. Our staff sincerely supports such a development of events because Tatarstan can present a new quality brand of the 'Tatar derby' to the KHL for years to come.

Nevertheless, Neftekhimik will certainly complete not as extra but a real candidate for a win in the conference for the first time in play-off history. The result is one of the main intrigues of the sports Tatarstan spring.

UNICS to fight for comeback to Euroleague

Another 'club' intrigue of the sports season is whether UNICS under Dimitrios Priftis and the team that was updated for him will be able to return itself the right to represent Russia in the main basketball tournament of Europe.

The Greens played in the first part of the season at least better than the analogous period last year. As maximum – this UNICS is considerably better than last year's team right in psychological preparation and looks more united as a team. It's what's needed to fight against Zenit, Khimki and Lokomotiv for the second ticket to the Euroleague.

This UNICS is considerably better than last year's team right in psychological preparation and looks more united as a team. Photo: unics.ru

At the moment, UNICS has lost only to CSKA on the domestic stage. And he has easily defeated all its major rivals. Petersburg and Krasnodar were walloped (the latter – on its own court), while the Greens stole the game almost in the last second from Aleksey Shved's team. Luck and preparation are on Kazan's side, but it's a question for basketball fans how they will play in the play-off that will start to have a final four in the European format.

Volleyball's fate in Tatarstan

Considering that changes in men's volleyball are in the air, we carefully enter the new year. Next Zenit was created in Petersburg under the same sponsor as that of the Kazan club, of course. In addition, Kazan has won all trophies that are possible in men's volleyball. Who knows what ideas can come to bosses of the gas multipurpose company. But examples of Russian football and hockey give to understand which city is in favour today. Coach Vladimir Alekno as well as leaders of the team Maksim Mikhailov and León have had the last missing Cup under their belt – the Club World Championship and usually started the next Champions League. There must happen something unpredictable if Zenit-Kazan doesn't get this trophy (the sixth Champions League already) in spring. So their own motivation and the 'Petersburg issue' can become the main rival for the Kazan team.

As for Dynamo-Kazan, the girls returned to the Champions League after almost a year break and got quite a good group of rivals thanks to Ekaterina Gamova. But here the intrigue in the tournament is much stronger and more curious. Dynamo isn't that great power any more that existed about 3 years ago, and it will be a really great achievement for Rishat Gilyazutdinov's team if they get at least one cup – domestic or European.

Kazan got its right to host the World Swimming Cup stage until 2022. Photo: Maksim Platonov

Swimming World Cup Stage

Kazan has been welcome to aquatic sports for many years. And it began before 2015 when the capital of Tatarstan hosted the biggest water forum – FINA World Championships. The sports capital has hosted different world and European stages of synchronised swimming, diving and high diving competitions (including among juniors).

And it's no surprise. It's known that Minister on Youth Affairs and Sport of the republic Vladimir Leonov is a big fan of spending free time in the swimming pool. So lobbying the transition of the Russian stage of the World Cup from Moscow to Kazan to FINA was a serious topic on the agenda, while making such a decision was a matter of time.

In the end, Kazan got its right to host the Swimming World Cup Stage until 2022. According to Leonov, organisation of such a tournament will be additional motivation for athletes before the FINA World Swimming Championships (25 m) that will be in Kazan in 2022.

''Kazan is very friendly to aquatic sports: we annually host FINA World Diving Series, we had synchronised swimming, water polo tournaments, but Tatarstan hasn't had swimming competition of this level. Now the world cup stage is moving to Kazan. The fact that the capital of Tatarstan won the right to host the FINA World Swimming Championships (25 m) in 2022 became an additional stimulus. We plan to hold this tournament that will gather the best swimmers of the world right on the threshold of this championship,'' Vladimir Leonov noted when it became known the right to host the stage moved from Moscow to Kazan.

It will be possible to enjoy the aesthetically beautiful sport in the Aquatics Palace, but FINA hasn't chosen the exact date yet.

The FINA Diving World Series has already been regularly held in the capital of Tatarstan since 2015. Photo: Maksim Platonov

FINA Diving World Series

As a continuation of the previous event, we can't forget another international water competition that became domestic for Kazan. The Kazan stage of the FINA Diving World Series will be on 4-6 May.

The FINA Diving World Series stage has already been regularly held in the capital of Tatarstan since 2015 after Kazan staged a gorgeous FINA World Championships and annually gathers full stands of spectators in the Aquatics Palace. Don't miss the stage this year as well.

Snowboard World Cup Stage (to be defined)

As a sports capital of Russia (to support this status at times), every year Kazan rightly fills in applications to host all possible international competitions. But they can't entertain people with aquatics sports only. It's time to get something from winter sports. It seems it is what sports officials of the republic discussed when they decided to lobby the arrival of the best world snowboarders to Sviyaga Hills.

And we almost held a stage of the World Snowboard Cross Cup and Parallel Giant Slalom on Kazan slopes last year, but it was cancelled in the end – Tatarstan decided not to assume all costs to host the tournament. This time Kazan wants the Snowboard World Cup. And the head of the Snowboard Federation of Russia even announced that the 'Kazan issue' would be raised at the spring session of the International Ski Federation (FIS).

This time Kazan wants the Snowboard World Cup. Photo: Maksim Platonov

''We're discussing the possibility of hosting a stage of the World Cup in Kazan in 2018. FIS gave a high evaluation of the track in Kazan, and we will raise this issue again at the spring session, show videos from the Russian Championship. Then it will be possible to sign an agreement on the organisation of the tournament next year,'' R-Sport cites President Snowboard Federation of Russian Denis Tikhomirov.

Well, we hope Kazan will get the stage in the end. Because we haven't had international snowboard here – only Russian. And considering that such an amazing ski resort remains without cool snowboard in Sviyaga, this gap needs to be urgently filled.

Red Bull Air Race World Championship

It's another event that Kazan tasted for the first time only last year. Aircraft that perform incredible pirouettes right above the Kazan River under the Kremlin walls became one of the brightest events last summer and added new impressions to the sports life of Kazan that is still intense. So it was already announced after last year's competition that Kazan would host one of the stages in 2018 too – the last in the European tour of the pilots.

Like last year, it will be in late August or, more precisely, on 25 and 26 August.

By Erik Dobrolyubov