Vladimir Putin has mastered the art of multitasking. Sure, strong-arming the Russian media, organizing an army with nuclear capabilities, and signing documents that strip a neighbouring nation of its sovereignty keep Russia’s president pretty busy, but he’s still found the time to begin preparations for the 2018 FIFA World Cup.
Having spent a record-breaking $50 billion on the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics (a mere $30 billion over his initial budget), Putin now plans to drop an additional $20 billion on the world’s largest and most prestigious soccer tournament.
But with civil unrest at a boiling point, commercial and military airplanes falling from the sky, and over 50,000 Ukrainians displaced from their homes, should Russia even be allowed to host the World Cup?
Concerns about terrorism and political instability dominated headlines in the days and months leading up to the 2014 Winter Games. An athletic boycott was discussed but never actualized, while many powerful world leaders (U.S. President Obama included) refused to attend the Opening Ceremony as an act of political protest.
It didn’t do much good. Shortly after the last of the medals were awarded, Putin sent his troops into Crimea to annex the Ukrainian peninsula. In March, he signed a decree that would “officially” make Crimea part of Russia. Of course, Ukraine has a very different perspective on the illegal occupation of its country. The whole thing is an absolute nightmare.
With Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 reportedly shot down by pro-Russia separatists on July 17, followed by two Ukrainian fighter jets shot out of the sky by pro-Russia rebels less than a week later, Putin clearly doesn’t have any interest in keeping the peace. On the other hand, he has an avid interest in recapturing the attention of the sporting world and shining the spotlight back on the Motherland.
FIFA’s decision to give Russia World Cup in the first place has been under scrutiny since the announcement was made in 2010.
FIFA’s selection process has long been fraught with controversy. In 1938, after promising to alternate between continents, soccer’s world governing body selected France over other South American bids, despite the fact that Italy hosted in 1934. As a result, Argentina and Uruguay boycotted the tournament. With Qatar selected to host the 2022 World Cup amidst scandal and bribery allegations, FIFA has done nothing to improve its reputation in more recent years.
So why not take the World Cup away from Russia and put it into the hands of a country that isn’t at the forefront of international violence and human rights violations? FIFA has the power to make the change. They are simply choosing not to. Because, evidently, the event will be a “powerful catalyst for constructive dialogue between people and governments, helping to bring positive social developments.”
Right. The rest of the world isn’t falling for it. According to UK Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, Russia should be ousted because the move would represent “a very potent political and symbolic sanction.”
Responding to the MH17 plane crash, German politician Peter Bueth stated that without full Russia cooperation with the investigation, “the soccer World Cup in Russia in 2018 is unimaginable.”
Dan Coats, a republican senator from Indiana suggested “that a more deserving World Cup 2018 bid should be reconsidered instead.” He followed up with an unsettling question: “Does this not remind us of what happened with Hitler in the early ‘20s and ‘30s?”
Greg Dyke, president of the English Football Association, went so far as to liken FIFA President Sepp Blatter and his committee to Kim Jong-Un and North Korea.
Contrary to FIFA’s assertion that the World Cup “can achieve positive change,” the event has a funny way of disguising the host country’s problems with camera flashes, celebrity appearances, and the feel-good nature of athletic competition.
It allowed audiences to forget (or at least be distracted from) the poverty and corruption in Brazil and the lingering post-apartheid racial tensions in South Africa. But, unsurprisingly, problems that exist beforehand remain long after the World Cup is gone.
Taking the event away from Russia would be an unprecedented move. It would send a message to future bidders that a nation must adhere to FIFA’s Code of Ethics and defend “the dignity or integrity of [every] country, private person, or group of people” if it wants to host the event.
Future hosts should further note that FIFA won’t stand for any spectator “violence towards persons or objects, letting off incendiary devices, throwing missiles, [or] displaying insulting or political slogans in any form.”
But when the pitch becomes international borders and the offences occur on a massive scale, the host country can get away with all of the above.