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Football fever raising temperature in Russia’s frozen Arctic

A reindeer herder wearing a cap with the logo of Barcelona’s football team poses in the remote Yamalo-Nenets region of northern Russia. © AFP / Sergei GAPON

YAMALO-NENETS, Russian Federation, Jun 4The cap’s unmistakable Barcelona logo peeks out from under the reindeer herder’s woolly hood.

His smiling eyes tell the story: World Cup football is coming to the yurts set up in the permafrost high above Russia’s Arctic Circle, where temperatures dip into uncharted territories.

Reindeer herders in the remote Yamalo-Nenets region of northern Russia. © AFP / Sergei GAPON

Yamalo-Nenets is one of Russia’s richest regions, an area larger than France, but is home to just half a million people who live the way their ancestors did for millenia.

Most locals reap no benefits from the wealth of the oil and gas buried deep in the frozen tundra now driving Russia’s growth.

A kid drinks the blood of a reindeer in the remote Yamalo-Nenets region of northern Russia . © AFP / Sergei GAPON

They lead a nomadic existence, their hands often covered in blood from the reindeer whose hides form their subsistence, and which dry on lines of string like wet laundry.

Reindeer blood, warm and nourishing, is a staple of their diets and is gingerly gathered and drunk out of metal mugs.

Children of reindeer herders play with a ball on the snow in the remote Yamalo-Nenets region of northern Russia. © AFP / Sergei GAPON

And its deep red colour is also the colour of the rubber ball kids kick with abandon across the snow in their woolly deer hide boots and mittens, bright traditional dresses worn over the top of deer hide body suits.

A yellow belt speckled with other bright colours completes the outfit as the children aim the ball for a stick embedded in the snow, a form of football played according to their own fashion.

The snow will remain hard and deep by the time the World Cup is played for the first time in Russia between June 14 and July 15.

A reindeer herder chops wood near a yurt in the remote Yamalo-Nenets region of northern Russia. © AFP / Sergei GAPON

But the reindeer herders of one of the world’s most remote inhabited regions beyond the reach of television signals will be following it as best they can — by word of mouth reports from places with electricity lines.

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