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Mann: 'I was nervous about what to expect in Russia'

THUMBS UP: Russia was welcoming, according to Voice columnist Leon Mann

I CAN'T lie. I was a little nervous about what to expect at the World Cup in Russia as I jumped on my flight to Moscow. But I have to say my experience was entirely positive and will live long in the memory.

My work - as a sports journalist, film-maker and consultant - has taken me to lots of incredible places. Kazakhstan, Belarus, China, Thailand, Israel and the Ivory Coast are just a few countries I have been fortunate enough to have seen in recent years. I am well travelled, so the prospect of heading to Moscow, just a three hour flight away, should not have stirred up the anxiety I experienced.

But who could blame me? Stories of violence towards black people (well, all people that aren’t Russian) were widespread across the media ahead of the tournament. Also speaking directly to anti-racism campaigners in the country they were concerned about what could happen.

However, as I strolled through Red Square - one of just a few black people around at that time - I couldn’t have felt more comfortable. The country was firmly under the World Cup’s spell and the celebrations were in full swing.

During my time in Moscow, working with Yaya Touré for beIN Sports, I took the opportunity to take in as much of the atmosphere as possible. Outside of working hours I would walk around the city and take in the sheer size of the place.

QUARTET: (from left) Former Premier League stars Peter Odemwingie, Toure, Patrice Evra and Mann are all smiles during the World Cup

Massive buildings, expansive roads, huge statues and monuments. The people were friendly and welcoming - they are fiercely proud to be hosting a World Cup in their country.

At the game I attended, Belgium against Tunisia, the football was magnificent, while the organisation at the stadiums was genuinely outstanding. Russia had done their homework and delivered a superb fan experience.

My only hope is that when the ‘show’ rolls out of town, the impact of the global party lives on. The anti-racism campaigners I spoke to were more optimistic than ever.

Never before had so many in their country been exposed to such diversity and welcomed it.

IN THE PICTURE: Mann managed to take in some of Russia’s sights

Many had always feared it. But the World Cup had helped to challenge these concerns.

I guess we will only really see the long lasting impact of the World Cup in years to come but in the meantime, to anyone reading this considering a quick dash to Moscow – do it!

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