Every four years the global sporting community feasts on a festival of football at the World Cup, as the world’s most popular sport takes centre stage.
Football, in its current form, was birthed around 1863 in England, but its origins stem from numerous games played throughout history, according to FIFA. Over the past 100 years the game has taken hold in countries around the world, in part due to its simplicity and ease of access.
Given its status as the biggest sport in the world, the FIFA World Cup has inevitably become the most watched sporting event and fans travel the world to support their teams, wherever the tournament is being hosted.
The 2018 World Cup is currently underway in Russia, with 11 cities and 12 stadiums playing host to 64 matches during the month-long spectacle.
The country is expecting more than 570,000 international visitors over the duration of the competition — with the influx of foreign tourists also expected to provide a boost to the Russian economy.
Travelling tourists provide a need for adequate accommodation and foreign exchange facilities, and this is where cryptocurrencies have come to the forefront at the World Cup.
CRYPTOCURRENCY IN RUSSIA WORLD CUP
In the four years since the last World Cup, cryptocurrencies have grown immensely. The proliferation of the industry came to a head last year, as Bitcoin, Ethereum and a number of altcoins reached all time highs.
With that being said, football fans were able to bet on the 2014 World Cup in Brazil with Bitcoin using Bitkup’s platform.
While the markets have cooled considerably, the availability and ease of access to cryptocurrency wallets and exchange platforms has continued to grow.
This seems to be the case at the World Cup in Russia. Another factor is that Russia is still operating under economic sanctions.
Put simply, cryptocurrency gives visitors and fans the ability to quickly and easily withdraw rubles — the Russian currency — using cryptocurrency.
HOW THOSE CAN BE USED IN 2018 WORLD CUP?
In the build up to the tournament, Kaliningrad hotel chain Apartments Malina announced that customers would be able to book and pay for accomodation using Bitcoin. The manager of the chain, Anna Subbotina, said the move was a forward-thinking initiative that could blaze the trail for the hotel industry:
“Cryptocurrencies are now enjoying increased interest. Gradually, they will come into use as a means of payment. And we decided that the fans should be able to pay for our services with the help of this innovative technology. It may very well be that other hotels awaiting [sic] our example for the forthcoming football holiday.”
Accommodation is not the only thing that tourists can use cryptocurrencies for during the World Cup. Killfish, a chain of bars in Russia, is accepting Bitcoin for booze as part of an extensive promotional program that promises great discounts.
Getting to Russia in the first place was also possible with cryptocurrencies. Cheapair has been accepting Bitcoin as a payment method since 2013, and with flights to Russia available through the airline, people could have easily made their way to the country using the cryptocurrency.
Travel agency Destinia also accepts Bitcoin as a payment method for its clients, and football fans using the service provider to get to Russia had another avenue to spend their BTC to enjoy the tournament.
With many sports, betting has become part and parcel of the experience. Die-hard fans are willing to put plenty of money on the line in hopes of striking gold in terms of their luck — and they can also do it using cryptocurrency.
There are a number of sport betting platforms that have adopted cryptocurrencies as a payment and betting option. Intertops and Bodog are two examples of betting websites that accept cryptocurrency bets as well as normal fiat betting.
The market is still one that needs a lot of development, but a number of platforms are working hard to become leaders in the cryptocurrency sports betting space.
Once you’ve found a platform you feel comfortable with, you still need to do some research before you start putting down bets on the outcomes of games. With this in mind, a US-based platform is working hard to provide a blockchain-powered solution for reputable betting tips.
More recently, developers have produced Blockchain-based applications (Hero, Winstars, Dragon Inc.) that provide betting advice to their users. Such platforms record predictions of sporting events on a blockchain, providing transparent public records of betting predictions. Users are able to access all records, which allows them to check other bettors track record to ensure validity of betting odds and advice.
THE GOLDEN BOY
It seems that the crypto-mania has even attracted the attention of the football stars as well. James Rodriguez was the breakout star of the 2014 World Cup. Scoring six goals, Rodriguez led Columbia to the quarter-finals, won the Golden Boot (awarded to the tournament’s leading scorer), and made a big-time move to Real Madrid.
After an impressive season on-loan at Bayern Munich, the Columbian star is ready for another major summer on and off-the-pitch.
Recently, Rodriguez announced a partnership with SelfSell to become the first major athlete to launch their own cryptocurrency.
According to SelfSell, Rodriguez’s coin, the JR10 token, will solidify fan relationships by allowing token holders to access exclusive merchandise, participate in fan club meetings, and interact with the star.
During the presale on the SelfSell app, JR10 tokens sold out in 12 seconds.
With that kind of fan interest, it is only a matter of when the game’s other biggest stars will follow Rodriguez’s lead and launch their own cryptocurrencies.
THE CHALLENGES WITH CRYPTO-PAYMENT IN RUSSIA
Digital payments in Russia have become fraught in recent years, with U.S. payment giants Visa and MasterCard blocking credit card services to some Russian bank customers as a result of U.S. sanctions back in 2014.
While the pair have since developed a way around the sanctions (and today process some 90% of all transactions in the country), there is still plenty of friction when it comes to digital payments. Last year Visa and MasterCard were blocked from Fintech, the Russian center for new financial technology as the Kremlin works on its own domestic payment system—Mir.
However, it is fitting that cryptocurrencies, a borderless payment method, is being implemented at the grandest stage of the world’s game. By facilitating the use of cryptocurrencies in Russia, companies like Wirex and Kassa-Free may be setting a precedent for even more use at future international events.
Interestingly, Russia had been drafting regulations for cryptocurrencies and ICOs in the new proposal “On Digital Financial Assets” in the same month of May. However, amendments were requested by Ministry of Economic Development, Ministry of Communications, Ministry of Justice, Central Bank of Russia and others to soften the rules for cryptocurrency users. While this decision was not favored by the Ministry of Finance, it did submit a bill last week which lists cryptocurrencies as “financial assets” instead of a legal payment method.
The use of cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin as a means of exchange is something the cryptocurrency has been struggling with since fees for sending Bitcoin spiked in last December.
At its peak at the end of 2017 there were roughly 400,000 Bitcoin transactions per day though this has now fallen back to around 200,000 transactions per day, and fees are back down with it.
Thorsten Koeppl, professor of economics at Queen’s University in Canada, previously said: “The value of Bitcoin is partly driven by its potential as a payments tool and, before the fees rose along with the price, there were people using Bitcoin for international transfers. This has become more expensive to do now. But the price is still being supported.”
As Bitcoin is increasingly used as a means of exchange, its utility will rise and demand along with it, pushing up the Bitcoin price — along with other cryptocurrencies being used for transactions.
The Bitcoin price has struggled in 2018 after reach giddy heights of almost $19,000 late last year. Bitcoin, along with many other major cryptocurrencies, has slumped in recent weeks — and investors are worried this downward trend will continue.