UNITED NATIONS, June 14 (Xinhua) -- The corridors of power at the United Nations Headquarters in New York might appear to most observers to be the epitome of seriousness and professionalism.
However, diplomatic protocol took a back seat on Thursday for the first match of the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Moscow, when Russia's ambassador to the United Nations, Vassily Nebenzia, invited his colleagues to join him with a jersey and a beer.
At about 10:20 a.m. local time in New York, ambassadors to the United Nations, nearly 100 journalists and UN staff from Saudi Arabia, Kazakhstan, Argentina, South Korea, Peru, Colombia, France, Tunisia, Japan and many other countries were invited to join the festivities.
Ambassadors watched the opening match of the World Cup between hosts Russia and Saudi Arabia in a lounge at UN Headquarters. Many took off their suits and temporarily replaced them with the jerseys of their respective national teams. Notably, Saudi Arabia's ambassador Abdallah Yahya al-Mouallimi took a photo with Nebenzia before a sea of reporters.
It was better to come early than late. UN General Assembly President Miroslav Lajcak had not long taken his seat next to Nebenzia when the Russian team scored the first goal, prompting a round of boisterous cheering and high-fives from the usually serious and dignified diplomats.
As temperatures in the Northern Hemisphere gradually warmed with the arrival of summer, the relationship between Russia and the West has cooled. In March, former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal was poisoned in Salisbury, England, causing the United States and many European nations to launch a series of punitive measures against Russia.
Relations between Russia and the West further deteriorated during rounds of mutual expulsions of diplomats, including 12 Russians from the United Nations. Russia and the United States and its European allies have often faced off against each other in the UN Security Council on issues such as Syria and the Middle East.
The first World Cup victory has a special significance for the Russian delegation to the United Nations, because this month coincides with Russia's rotating presidency of the UN Security Council. The Russian delegation attaches great importance to the hosting of the World Cup, and has produced large-scale World Cup posters and background boards for other delegates to take pictures of.
In addition to allowing resident correspondents and diplomats at the United Nations to watch the World Cup broadcasts, the Russian mission also specifically arranged for the ambassadors of the Security Council member countries to take pictures with their jerseys in front of reporters.
The Saudi Arabian football team ranks 67th in the world and Russia ranks 70th. Neither Russia nor Saudi Arabia have star players or strong teams, so this opener may be their only chance at glory.
However, at the United Nations, the Russian team's first goal produced much revelry and joy. Ambassadors from Morocco, Russia, Tunisia and Peru celebrated together with the president of the General Assembly.
On Wednesday morning, Nebenzia was perhaps only half joking when he said that the work of the Security Council would be disrupted by the World Cup. What seems certain, however, is that the sitting ambassadors will continue to follow the tournament closely in the hope of seeing their nations achieve glory on the world stage.