So big a factor was travel in the first FIFA World Cup in 1930 that many European nations refused to undertake the three-week journey across the Atlantic to Uruguay. That edition had 13 teams —two from North America, four from Europe and seven from South America — the only time so many participated from South America.
Since trans-Atlantic flights – in their early days — were expensive, Belgium, France and Romania shared a ride on board the liner Conte Verde with three World Cup referees, FIFA president Jules Rimet, and the trophy.
Yugoslavia, according to fifamuseum.com, sailed on their own after Egypt missed their ride due to inclement weather. By 1950, the world’s map had been redrawn and air travel was cheaper but a cagey Italy preferred the sea route after the 1949 air crash that took out the entire Grande Torino squad. That took a toll on Italy’s fitness and ultimately sealed their fate in the World Cup.
While long international sojourns are inevitable for some nations, travel within a host country has mostly been shorter. Take for example the first World Cup in Uruguay where all three venues were in Montevideo. When Brazil — the fifth largest country in the world — hosted the World Cup in 1950, five of the six venues were around 500 km from each other.
In 2014 however, Brazil had 12 venues as against the original 10 decided by FIFA. It turned out to be exhausting for the players travelling the length and breadth of the vast country. Almost equally distressing was the travel at times in the 1994 World Cup in the US when some teams had to cross three time zones one way.
Russia, though cooler than Brazil or US in summer, can be no different with 12 venues. Ideally, teams should have chosen their training bases keeping the distance to match venues in mind. But priorities seem to have changed this time as only 12 out of 32 teams play a match in a city/region they have set up base.
Due to its size and infrastructure, the Moscow region is hosting 10 of those camps. The other teams however have followed different logic.
Take the case of South Korea. Moscow should have been close to all their match venues but they still picked St Petersburg because of the traffic the Russian capital is notorious for.
“When considering travel time from our hotel to the airport, Moscow will take more than 30 minutes while in St. Petersburg it will take less than that,” KFA public affairs director Cho Jun-heon was quoted as saying by the Korea Herald. “Given the overall travel time, we decided that training in St. Petersburg would be better than staying in Moscow.”
Of the 67 options presented to the World Cup finalists, Egypt chose Grozny, capital of Chechenya, as the base. It drew criticism due to alleged human rights violations in the past at the Chechen capital.
Taking into account the round trips for three group matches, the Egyptians would have flown a staggering 11,906 km — the most among all teams — by the end of the league stage. Earlier, it was assumed Egypt picked Grozny because it’s predominantly Muslim.
But that wasn’t the case. “We mentioned Kazan and St. Petersburg as the most preferable cities for setting up our training base. But the two cities happened to have been booked by the time we made a request,” Egyptian Football Association president Hany Abo Rida was quoted as saying by Russia’s TASS news agency.
The most favourable bases in terms of combined travel for three group matches are those of Argentina (2,376 km) and Colombia (2,026 km). Interestingly, their travel is even less than the 3,346 km-round trip undertaken by Kolkata Knight Riders for their Indian Premier League match in Chennai in April.
It’s not clear why Nigeria chose Essentuki as their base, forcing them to travel almost 11,856 km during the group phase. That’s slightly more than a non-stop flight between New Delhi and New York.
While Nigeria’s base was confirmed only in February, England chose their base before the draw was announced on December 1. “The longest flight we’d have to do is three hours. That’s nothing – all the players are travelling that sort of distance for Champions League games. This isn’t a situation like we had in Brazil where Manaus was a six-hour flight,” England coach Gareth Southgate was quoted as saying.
Still, England will have to travel around 8,580 km in the group phase. But thanks to technology that’s always bringing the world closer, that no longer seems to be a worry.