“I am a citizen of the suitcase.”
So says, Victoria Lopyreva, and as FIFA’s official ambassador for this month’s World Cup, her passports has the stamps to prove it. In truth, sometimes when she opens her eyes in the morning, she’s not sure which continent she’s on, much less which country. “Can you imagine? Moscow, Morocco, New York, Rio, Buenos Aires, Sudan, Dubai, Shanghai, Beirut — everyone tells me I live in an airplane.”
During her two-day stay in New York, she talked about her MO. The last 18 months have been a whistle stop tour from one outpost to the next to let foreigners know, “We are all equal, we are all people. Yes, we speak different languages, we live in different countries with borders and sometimes oceans between them. But I feel like our hearts are beating in the same way, we’re struggling in the same way and we can feel happiness in the same way.”
Many were in the dark about the fact that Russia waives visa requirements, with fans only needing a passport, FIFA-authorized fan ID and a World Cup ticket, she said. And no, white polar bears will not be roaming the streets, and warms hats aren’t needed in summery June and July. “I just want to share my country with the rest of the world. Politics is politics, but if you’re talking about football, it’s a lifestyle and a passion. After and before the game there are a lot of things to do,” Lopyreva said.
A former Miss Russia and TV personality, she has never met Vladimir Putin but she attended his recent speech at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum. With an MBA in economics, she is earning a second Master’s in FIFA sports management. As for FIFA’s woes with financing, security and violent fans, she praised president Gianni Infantino’s efforts especially his appointment of FIFA’s first female secretary general Fatma Samoura. She also talked up the security in place in for the 11 host cities for matches.
As FIFA’s first female ambassador, Lopyreva is the World Cup’s UNAIDS’ special ambassador. her involvement with the zero-discrimination program has helped to garner the support of “This is the first World Cup with the main message from FIFA being, ‘Everyone is welcome.’” Lopyreva said.
The worldwide audience continues to change. Recalling her early days as the first female host of a soccer program, she said, “The audience had gotten used to the idea that only a man with a beer and chips can talk about football, and here was a blonde girl talking about football,” she said. “We had record-breaking numbers that first year and I thought I should keep trying to finally melt this ice between us.
Four years later, she married Russian soccer player Fyodor Smolov, despite promising herself that she never would marry one. “They are such nice guys to be friends with, but not to marry. But sometimes God has his own plan,” she said, of her now ex-husband who is now a main striker with Krasnodar Football Club. “We have good relations and I miss his parents a lot.”
As for her favorite players, five years ago she would name Argentina’s Lionel Messi, “a genius and one-of-a-kind,” and Real Madrid’s Cristiano Ronaldo, “a perfect athlete,” but now she would go with Neymar “superhumble, supersweet and he is doing a lot of charity in Brazil. I wish him every success. Brazil has huge motivation to win. Because at the previous World Cup, Germany won and all of the Brazilians were crying because they were about to win [the 2014 semifinals with 1 billion fans watching on TV.] I wish all Brazilians to cry because they’re happy [this time.]” (Neymar, Pogba and Italy’s Graziano Pellè earn her votes for fashion and style.)
Not many sports personalities are as designer-adorned as the former Miss Russia is, appearing for an interview in all-black ensemble of Saint Laurent and Dior pieces. “I have the privilege to wear what I want. A lot of girls started to get involved with football, because they follow me on social media. They see which dress I’m choosing. I’m still a woman so I can mix my serious mission of representing my country abroad and at the same time, I can play a little bit,” she said, singling out Chanel, Saint Laurent, Michael Kors, Valentino and of course Russian designers. She prefers to purchase what she wears for work-related appearances.
The former model studied with Leonardo DiCaprio’s acting coach Bernard Hiller at one point, and starred in a Russian film. But the acting life is not for her. “I feel that is not my way. I am very direct. I prefer to be myself. I don’t want to play someone else.”
As for reports of her plans to marry opera tenor Nikolay Baskov, she said, “We’ll see. I’m involved only in the World Cup. If he still remembers my name, I’m happy. Let me finish with the World Cup and after we will discuss my private life.”