MOSCOW - For Russian prostitutes, the World Cup and its testosterone-charged fans could have meant big business. But in reality many will stay away from host cities after warnings from police, the head of the country's only sex workers' group told AFP.
Irina Maslova said a police crackdown will make it impossible for the majority of workers in the illegal trade to operate during the tournament, despite shock headlines about hordes of fans looking to pay for sex.
"Most brothels are simply closing because of warnings from police... those who remain will do so at their own risk," said Maslova, whose organisation, Silver Rose, has members in more than 40 cities across the country.
Only those with a significant "krysha" (the Russian for "roof"), that sees them pay a percentage of their earnings to officials and police in return for protection, will be able to operate as usual.
Maria - a worker in a "salon" in Saint Petersburg, one of Russia's 11 host cities - told AFP she had heard of several other such businesses closing recently, most likely because they had failed to come to an arrangement with authorities.
President Vladimir Putin has described Russian prostitutes as the "best in the world" and the country was notorious for its sex industry in the 1990s.
But in recent years has seen a clean-up, with sex workers reporting reduced demand and being forced to slash prices after a financial crash in 2014.
"All the state organs and everyone associated with them will be harsher towards so-called law-breakers and undesirable elements" as Russia attempts to project the cleanest image possible during the World Cup, Maslova said.
Previous events such as the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics have seen police impose harsher fines on sex workers and in some cases imprison them for the duration of the competition, said the activist.
Maslova was held in solitary confinement herself for 48 hours when police launched a cleanup operation ahead of the 300-year anniversary of Saint Petersburg in 2003.
Other women were rounded up and dumped up to 60 kilometres outside the city, leading to the formation of the Silver Rose group to promote workers' rights.
"To avoid this danger, to protect their life, their health, their safety, sometimes their reputation, (sex workers) will leave because being in a city where big events are happening is simply not possible," she said.
English lessons for strippers
But those in the legal sex industry - such as strippers and the owner of a newly opened sex doll hotel - told AFP they were expecting the World Cup to bring a boost to a sector that has been badly hit in recent years.
"We're expecting a big influx of guests - at minimum twice or three times more than usual," said Lucky Lee, the sequin-jacketed owner of the Golden Girls strip club in central Moscow.
"For our cabaret it's very difficult in the current crisis," he said, pointing the finger at sanctions imposed by the West in the wake of Russia's annexation of Crimea in 2014.
"Before, salaries (for dancers) were usually between $5,000 (R65,358) to $10,000 a month," he said before one performer rehearsed an energetic routine centred around a football.
"Now it's $2,000 to $5,000. That's a really serious fall."
In a bid to add value for foreign punters, Golden Girls is laying on English lessons for its dancers in the run-up to the tournament.
Before opening on a recent weekend, three dancers practised introducing themselves using both their real and stage names in a strip-lit office off the club's golden entrance hall.
"They're general English lessons, we talk on various themes - how to book a hotel, how to speak with guests, too," said Melanie, a 29-year-old dancer who has been working in the club on-and-off for the last six years.
"It would be good if there were more work over the tournament...everyone feels it (the crisis)."
Dmitry Alexandrov, who opened the first Russian franchise of the Spanish Lumidolls Sex Hotel last month - where men pay $80 for an hour in the company of a life-size silicone doll - also said he was expecting increased business from football fans.
"Most supporters will be without their other halves," he said, flanked by busty Lolita and Alise, two of the Moscow hotel's most popular models.
"When we're talking about sex with dolls, it's not cheating for most couples."
The hotel - where pop music pumped into the corridors just about covers the appreciative noises of punters in their rooms - is planning to offer fans the option of dressing their chosen doll in the t-shirt of their national team.
Activist Maslova said she had been to the opening of the sex doll hotel and welcomed the fact it was advertising itself as Russia's "first legal brothel".
"It gets people thinking about the phrase," said Maslova, whose organisation aims for the full decriminalisation of sex work in the country.