When the All Whites kick off the Confederations Cup against hosts Russia tomorrow morning (NZT), it will be the biggest step yet in a process that began with an unfathomable announcement six-and-a-half years before.

New Zealand's involvement, funnily enough, will eventually be a mere footnote in the final story told of the tournament: how Russia handled hosting the dress rehearsal a year out from the main event.

The decision to award the 2018 World Cup to Russia - and the 2022 edition to Qatar - stunned the football world, but at that time, in December 2010, the actual events were too far in the future for the consequences to feel tangible.

Now, though, Fifa's corrupt chickens are coming home for a fitful roost. Now, the reality of hosting the World Cup in a country like Russia is becoming apparent.


Which is how we get press releases like that issued this week by Fifa, trumpeting a "ground-breaking" procedure that allows referees to abandon matches if fans participate in racist or discriminatory behaviour.

That's all good - the alternative of forcing abused players to remain on the pitch is obviously worse. But, as a general rule, if your tournament needs to break that kind of ground days before it begins, perhaps it shouldn't be taking place at all.

Perhaps, if fans in Russia can't be trusted to watch 90 minutes of football without resorting to racism, they don't deserve a World Cup in their backyard this time next year.

And, to be clear, they can't be trusted. Not when Spartak Moscow supporters fly flags featuring swastikas. Not when Zenit St Petersburg fans demand their club sign only white players. And not when those in the FC Rostov stands throw a banana at a black player.

But never fret, in charge of ensuring this month's tournament remains free from such awkward issues is Alexey Smertin, a former national team midfielder and now head of anti-racism for Russian football.

Smertin has previously said racism in Russia "doesn't exist" and the distribution of fruit was "just for fun", before this week adopting a similarly permissive attitude while laughing off the dress-up party in an interview with CNN.

With such sterling acumen, why shouldn't we believe Smertin's guarantee there will be no racism at the World Cup? And, once 2018 passes without incident, we can look forward to a similarly smooth tournament four years later.

Right? Well, there was this month's decision by Qatar's nearest neighbours to sever ties with the small Gulf nation - potentially in part due to its alleged support for terrorism. And if that diplomatic problem were to persist, complicating international air travel into Qatar, those World Cup stadiums would look awful empty.


If, that is, they're standing at all. Only one venue is presently completed and the remainder require concrete and steel imports, something currently stalled by the impasse.

Once those imports resume, however, Qatar can at least count on an indefatigable supply of migrant workers to finish the project. They're not about to let extreme heat, abusive conditions or the confiscation of passports impede a job well done.

As for the fears among some human rights groups that as many as 4000 of those workers could die in the construction of stadiums before a ball is even kicked? That's a story for another day.

For now, we can look forward to the All Whites' encounter with Russia in the early hours of tomorrow morning, safe in the knowledge that, if everything goes wrong, the hosts have already paid the price. Those rubles have well and truly been spent.