It is not every day that you share the company of Russian President Vladimir Putin, Brazilian Football great Pelé and FIFA President Gianni Infantino.
That was the scenario for the New Zealand Football President Deryck Shaw and Chief Executive Andy Martin who were alongside some of the world’s biggest names in politics and sport at the opening game of the FIFA Confederations Cup in St Petersburg.
President Putin addressed the crowd moments before kick-off with a rousing speech which sounded like a call to arms and it worked as the Russian team went on to win the fixture 2-0 in front of more than 54,000 fans.
For Shaw and Martin, the experience of watching it all unfold in the brand new space-age Krestovsky Stadium was a surreal experience.
“When Putin and Pelé walked in, it certainly turned heads,” said Shaw from St Petersburg. “Alongside Gianni, who we have a good relationship with, they are all massive names on the world stage and it was an honour and a privilege to be in their company.”
Pelé is regarded as one of the greatest footballers of all time. During his international career, he won three FIFA World Cups in 1958, 1962 and 1970 and is the only player ever to do so. Pelé is the all-time leading goal-scorer for Brazil with 77 goals in 92 games.
While Putin has been President of Russia for three successive terms. He has enjoyed high domestic approval ratings during his career, and received extensive international attention as one of the world’s most powerful leaders.
The FIFA Confederations Cup is being held in Russia for the first time and the ‘Tournament of Champions’ is in effect a test-run for the largest sporting event in the world, the FIFA World Cup.
Eight teams compete in the four yearly event, the six winners of the Confederations around the world alongside the FIFA World Cup Champions and the host nation.
New Zealand are competing at the FIFA Confederations Cup for the fourth time after winning the OFC Nations Cup last June in Papua New Guinea.
FIFA have reported that the global TV audience for the event in in excess of one billion people and it is a global meeting of sport and politics most influential people.
During and after the match, Shaw managed to have some time with President Putin discussing football, the FIFA Confederations Cup and the positive relationship between New Zealand and Russia.
Shaw said being in Russia and meeting such dignitaries was a rare opportunity, afforded by Football, which simply doesn’t happen without being involved in such major events on the world stage.
“It underlines how significant it is having New Zealand compete at the FIFA Confederations Cup,” said Shaw. “Not only does the All Whites’ involvement put them on the world stage, it is also hugely significant for the profile of New Zealand Football and New Zealand as a whole as we meet with very influential people.”
Shaw presented President Putin with a gift from New Zealand and commented that the staging of the tournament has been exceptional so far.
The All Whites travel to Sochi today for their second game of the FIFA Confederations Cup where they will face World No 17 Mexico on Wednesday night at the Fisht Olympic Stadium.
2017 FIFA Confederations Cup – All Whites draw
21 June 9pm (6am 22 June NZT) v Mexico Fisht Olympic Stadium, Sochi
24 June 6pm (3am 25 June NZT) v Portugal, Krestovsky Stadium, St Petersburg
Live on SKY Sport
Follow our coverage of the FIFA Confederations Cup on social media:
Twitter: @NZ_Football #AllWhites #ConfedCup #RUSNZL
Facebook: @AllWhites @FootballNZ