‘Football can make relations warmer’ says FIFA Ambassador Lopyreva on England & Russia fans (VIDEO)

The FIFA ambassador for the 2018 World Cup in Russia, Victoria Lopyreva, was on hand in Central London to attend the “Alliance of the Host Cities” event to go over the fine details of the tournament next year.

Lopyreva joined a host of World Cup 2018 representatives and officials at Queen Elizabeth II Centre in Westminster to answer questions on the football festival including FAN ID, logistics, travel and her home city of Rostov-on-Don, one of 12 host cities.

A self-proclaimed pioneer of women’s involvement in football, Lopyreva’s background in the game includes presenting the Football Night TV program alongside footballer Georgiy Cherdantsev. Her professional and personal interests overlapped during her brief marriage to Russia striker Fedor Smolov from 2013 to 2015.

Due to initiatives set up with the help of the Russian Football Union, which included personally handing out Russian Warm Welcome blankets to visiting Manchester United fans in her home city of Rostov-on-Don for a Europa League game in March, Lopyreva has more recently found popularity among English football fans.

United returned the favor in August, inviting the Miss Russia 2003 winner to their 4-0 Premier League win over West Ham, something she described as “legendary” and admits that she is now a huge fan of the 20-time England Premier League champion.

Lopyreva has combined her work in football with a career as an international supermodel and acknowledges her jokingly recounting that the hotline for fans set up in Rostov received not one call of distress, but was inundated with calls to receive a picture with the “blonde ambassador.”

Nevertheless, Lopyreva says hopes her platform will be an opportunity to improve relations between English and Russian supporters, to avoid a “repeat of Marseille” in 2016.

Speaking exclusively to RT Sport, Lopyreva told us what fans can expect from her native city, what it’s like studying for a FIFA MBA, trips to Old Trafford, and why Russia is looking forward to the FIFA World Cup Final Draw at the State Kremlin Palace on Friday.

RT: You are from the city of Rostov-on-Don, in southern Russia. What can football fans traveling to Russia for the 2018 World Cup tournament next year expect from your home city?

Viktoria Lopyreva: First of all, it’s a big honor to be FIFA Ambassador for the World Cup that’s going to happen in Russia for the first time in the history of our country. And the second is I am super-happy that my native city, Rostov-on-Don, is one of the host cities for the World Cup. I would say that it’s a very good opportunity for our country and for foreigners to explore Russia, because Russia is not like Moscow and St. Petersburg – like a lot of people this is the first city that you want to visit. And Rostov is like the “southern capital” of Russia. People there are more friendly, more warm. We have very rich, very interesting and very tasty dishes and cuisine. And there is very nice weather, by the way.

So I believe that you guys are going to enjoy your stay in Rostov. I think it’s one of the most beautiful cities in Russia - it’s not just because it’s my native city, just because you know it’s very eclectic. It’s a big city, like 2 million population, and at the same time it’s very authentic because it’s southern and we have a lot of sun, which is also very important, isn’t it?

I'M A FOOTBALL FAN AND A RUSSIAN CITIZEN AND I DON'T SEE ANY DIFFERENCE BETWEEN US

RT:You were very influential when Man United played Rostov and also when they played CSKA Moscow in September, you’ve actually been to Old Trafford yourself. Do you think initiatives such as the Warm Welcome, where you handed out blankets to fans, has strengthened relationships between Russian and English football fans?

VL: Well, you know what, I believe that football is out of politics. I mean that we cannot decide something that people on another level can decide. But I’m just a football fan and I’m just a Russian citizen and I don't see any difference between us. I mean that football really unites people and I think that if we can do some small thing like [hand out] a warm blanket, or I can arrange like a hotline for Manchester United fans in my native city as I did before, these are small steps that can really make our relations warmer, because we are united by football and we like football and through football you can make relations warmer, I believe.

RT: Aside from your work as an ambassador, we know you have begun studying for the FIFA Executive Programme in Sport Management. How are you finding that?

VL: Well, I would like to say this is the most difficult six months for me to study, because I have to support the [World Cup] Trophy Tour and I have to travel a lot and we have a lot of promotion for the World Cup, as even here today in London. But I think that this is the basic knowledge that I’m going to have when I finish the FIFA Executive MBA. It’s going to help me a lot because I studied economics at university before. I did a masters, but economy, when I finished my university, and now this is the time to go forward because, you know, I was a pioneer, I was the first woman to host a TV show about football in Russia. After that, I became involved in football because even in my private life [through a short-lived marriage to Russia striker Fedor Smolov] I was related to football as well, and now I think like the next step is to get this masters which is very interesting, I already have the first model and the second section will be in December. I’m even canceling my travels and cancelling [other] things because I like to attend every day.

FOOTBALL IS NOT JUST THE GAME ON THE PITCH, IT'S MUCH MORE

RT: Do you prefer to keep football professional rather than personal?

VL: Yeah, because now football is my life. I’m dedicating every day to the World Cup, the football, because I believe football is not just the game on the pitch, it’s much more. Football is much more. You can travel a lot around the world and if there is a stadium, if there is a football team, you’re going to find friends, you’re going to find people who are on the same mental level, like really excited about the football. You can do charity through the football. You can do a lot of things, actually. That’s why I do believe there is a niche for women as well, so we have to do something.

RT: Women’s football is actually one of the fastest growing sports here in England, what do you think about that? How important do you think it is for women to be involved in football?

VL: Well I think that women’s football now is growing everywhere around the world and it’s a very supportive kind of sport. As for me, to be honest, I prefer to watch traditional football. But I think it’s normal that people want to watch women’s football and I support it a lot.

RT: England are one of 32 teams to have qualified for the Russia 2018 World Cup, do you hope they will play Russia like they did in Euro 2016?

VL: I would like to say that, as I mentioned already, the level of the security in Russia during the World Cup will be extremely high and I believe there are no bad emotions and everybody will be going there just to have positive and good emotions. And even if England and Russia are going to meet in the same group, I think that English fans and Russia fans are going to go there for the biggest football celebration just to give inspiration for their national team. Because everybody is there because of the football, so we have to support the team we’re cheering on. So, there is no reason to be negative, because there are so many questions, what’s going to happen, what’s the security reason and all these things. We cannot change what’s happened before, right? But this is the experience. The experience could be good or bad. But definitely we can change something that is going to happen in the future and I believe that the level of security during the World Cup is going to be at the highest level.

RT: Talking about English football, do you have a favorite English team or English player?

VL: Everybody knows, I think, already that I am a Manchester United supporter. For me it was a legendary meeting at Old Trafford at the beginning of this season. It was fantastic because actually it was 4-1 and all the stadium was so happy and I was so happy as well. I watched so many games of Manchester United before on the TV, that finally I was there at this legendary stadium and I saw the game for real. It’s an unbelievable moment and by the way I am going at the beginning of December, it’s going to be Manchester United-CSKA Moscow, so I’m going to be there as well.

RT: The FIFA World Cup Final Draw at the State Kremlin Palace will take place next Friday in Moscow. How much are Russians looking forward to that event?

VL: Oh, I would like to say that all Russians are very excited because all of us are waiting for the World Cup and of course, not only Russians, like the rest of the world are waiting for the Final Draw, everybody desperately wants to find out who is playing with who, when, where and the logistics, you know. If you’re a supporter of the English team you have to understand your logistics: where to go, which city you’re going to visit first. So that's why of course it’s very exciting and I know a lot of people are going to fly to Moscow from around the world and even more viewers are going to watch the draw on the TV, so we are very looking forward to this event.

RT: Who are you looking forward to seeing during play at the World Cup?

VL: Of course, my heart is with Russia and to be honest I would like to see interesting football, first of all. That’s why I wouldn't say that I would wish Russia to be in a less strong group. I would like to see very interesting football. This means, of course, I am very curious to see Russia against Argentina, for example, because we lost just one week ago and maybe it’s going to be the time to win, who knows?

By Danny Armstrong for RT Sport