russia world cup
© John Sibley / Reuters
World Cup 2018 mascot Zabivaka, June 16, 2018
It was the dogs what done it. The picture of the "pile of canine corpses on the streets of Russia killed in the name of the world cup," I mean.

Or at least the thousands of people who had retweeted the image thought so, before it turned out the dead dogs were Pakistani, killed for public health reasons in Karachi five years before. A lie half-way around the world before the truth could get a leash on it.

It was that Pavlovian reaction which made me take the World Cup for my topic this week.

There are of course no dead dogs on the streets of Russia, the strays are comfortably in kennels for the duration. No tanks either. No racist mobs rampaging, as we'd been told to expect. No homophobic gangs gone "queer-bashing" (unlike in Mississippi). Just millions of Russians, opening their arms, their hospitality and their hearts to a multi-colored peaceful invasion of football-lovers, quickly finding out that Russia ain't what "they" said it would be.

From the opening ceremony followed by the best opening-game ever, through a flurry of goal and incident-packed games, the show so far is being universally hailed, by fans at least, as the best tournament for a very long time.

This is a considerable set-back for the Russia-haters, and one must be on one's toes for any potential provocations yet to fructify, though the usual suspects continue to try to make up ground.

The Russian team scored five because "a one-way ticket to Siberia would've been the reward for failure" was one jibe I read (they haven't caught up with the fact that nowadays Siberia is rather a "happening" place). The "trains are running on time and all is going like clock-work" because of course "that's what happens in dictatorships" was another.

But at the radio stations where I work (Mr Rupert Murdoch's Talksport & Talkradio) the entire building is rocking, relishing every minute of the show so far. And full of respect for Russia's handling of the spectacle too. Whatever Russia has spent on the World Cup is money well spent, that much is already certain. It will not be so easy now to paint this glorious world cup host as a monotone backward totalitarian Potemkin Village.

But the dawning realization that countries placed by the West "beyond the pale" are as developed, prosperous, capable and maybe happier than our own is not the only "changing of the guard" being witnessed at World Cup 2018.

Italy haven't even qualified and neither have the Netherlands, two giants now ghosts of the past. The holders Germany were humbled by effervescent, unstoppable Mexico. The titanic majesties of Brazil held by tiny Switzerland, hitherto renowned for the cuckoo clock and the chocolate box.

France and Argentina have looked a shadow of their reputations and even Uruguay, a pocket-sized footballing superpower were, well, in Egypt's pocket until the very last minute.

As a metaphor of how things are changing in the world it has all been unexpectedly satisfying so far. The political hegemon of the United States is not even at these races.

The old powers of the European Union are fading fast. Africa, Iran, the Arab world, Russia and the formerly begrudged Latin America are on the rise. The "sanctioners" on the retreat, the sanctioned - Iran and Russia atop their groups - going forward. The great and the good now not so great, not so good.

The message for politics is now written on the subway walls, as Paul Simon once put it. Or if you prefer Bob Dylan, "the first ones now will later be last, the slow ones now will later be fast. The times they are a-changin'..."
About the author

George Galloway was a member of the British Parliament for nearly 30 years. He presents TV and radio shows (including on RT). He is a film-maker, writer and a renowned orator.