2018 Russia World Cup: should there be more widespread condemnation?

2018 Russia World Cup: should there be more widespread condemnation?

Since that fateful day in Zurich, 2010, where the world gasped at the baffling news of successful World Cup host bids for rank outsiders Russia and Qatar, intense scrutiny has been placed on all vested parties who came to those decisions.

Much of the microscopic attention has undoubtedly been on Qatar’s successful bid as opposed to Russia’s. The sun-baked Arab nation has as good as admitted that key votes were bought, and that the tournament will likely take place in the Winter to mitigate the effects of playing in the region’s sweltering summer climate.

As has been argued on this site before, there are some valid reasons for the Middle East to have its own World Cup. However, ongoing accusations of horrendous slave labour remain the focal point for arguing the entire project be immediately cancelled.

“Despite five years of promises, FIFA has failed almost completely to stop the World Cup being built on human rights abuses.” – Amnesty International on Qatar

Nonetheless, Qatar’s shortcomings have significantly taken the pressure off the mysterious and despicable aspects of the Russian bid, which is also worthy of condemnation. Compared against Qatar, Russia’s attempts to host the tournament look conventional, when in reality, the summer of 2018 will still be one of FIFA’s more outrageous decisions in years gone by. Here’s why.

Cultural Discrimination

Only a nominal amount of research into the Russian Premier League shows a prejudice footballing culture unfit to welcome a multicultural group of fans from all corners of the world.

Repeated episodes, of homophobia, racism, and discrimination suggest that this will be a World Cup where its best that social minorities should stay away. This is entirely unacceptable, and the Russian FA should have made a more concerted effort to show radical steps to rectify this.

Alexey Sorokin, CEO of Russia 2018, has said issues of embedded discrimination are ‘unwanted tendencies’, but has maintained that they are ‘not a trend’. In 2015, however, BBC journalist Sarah Rainsford visited Moscow, reporting that:

‘It was unmistakable: every time a black player from either side got the ball, a section of supporters behind each goal broke into monkey chants. Officials here play down suggestions that racism is a serious problem in the Russian game and say they are working to kick it out for good. But those scenes at the match between CSKA Moscow and Zenit Saint Petersburg, two of Russia’s biggest clubs, suggest that their efforts so far have had limited impact.’

Allegations of Corruption

Perhaps one of the Russian World Cup’s greatest successes has been the lack of condemnation they’ve received following the reports that have gone into the legitimacy of their bid.

The Garcia Report, led by US lawyer Michael Garcia in 2015, failed to directly scrutinise the Russian bid because Russia’s bid team ‘leased’ computers, which have since been returned and then destroyed. In any other global industry, destroying or deliberately concealing evidence would be reason enough to cancel an event. Not this World Cup though, and not when FIFA are involved.

Hooliganism

Euro 2016 was alarming for many reasons. Beyond the fact that it was dire in terms of quality and entertainment, it was marred by shocking fan violence, particularly between English and Russian fans.

Every country has its extremists, and it’s acceptable that some Russian fans were up for a fight, but allegations that Russian ultras were trained specifically to cause harm to others is a serious cause for concern.

The issue becomes even more absurd when unconfirmed allegations surface of hooliganism being a programme spearheaded by the Kremlin, which only suggests that the vitriol nature of Russia’s fans can be rooted right down to the cores of the Russian government. The Kremlin has dismissed this, calling the accusations ‘another example… of anti-Russian hysteria’.

FIFA’s priority for any tournament should be the safety of fans who are attending. As we’ve argued, the only way either tournament would be moved or cancelled is if there was a strong enough case to say fans’ safety would be compromised.

State Sponsored Doping

The issue of state-sponsored doping is equally contentious, and Russian apologists would maintain, and with some good reason, that doping accusations relate specifically to athletics and not football, and that therefore the issues should not be confused.

Doping happens everywhere, in every country, and for the western world to condemn Russia alone for it would be hypocritical.

In July 2016, Richard McLaren, a Canadian attorney, published the McLaren report– a 97 page document, which concluded that it was ‘beyond a reasonable doubt’ that the Russian state ‘operated for the protection of doped Russian athletes’ within a ‘state-directed failsafe system’. 643 positive drug samples were found, 11 coming from footballers.

However, when doping is pioneered by the state, then that changes the argument significantly. Russia have only given their sceptics more reason to doubt the integrity of their bid by demonstrating an immoral approach to world sport before.

Geopolitical Matters

Some would argue that further accusations of Russian meddling in Brexit and the American elections would add credence to the argument that they should be stripped of the tournament outright. The argument being that only a punishment this severe would make them think twice before committing foul play in global politics again.

Add to this incidents such as the shooting down of a civilian airplane heading to Malaysia, the annexation of Crimea and war in Ukraine, as well as the fact that Yugoslavia were banned from Euro 92 for geopolitical reasons, and you may argue that Russia should have already lost the tournament.

Despite this, it could also be argued that geopolitical and sporting tournaments should not be put at odds with one another. Perhaps the beauty of competitive sport is that it is devoid of politics. No matter Russia’s wrongdoing, the geopolitical actions of Vladimir Putin and Russian Sport should not be conflated.

In 1992, during the Yugoslav wars, Yugoslavia were suspended from international competition as part of a United Nations sanction. They were replaced by Denmark for Euro 92′, who went on to win the tournament.

Conversely, the 2018 World Cup could be seen as a device that might help liberalise the views of a nation whose fan culture is backward. That is a good thing, and if the World Cup helps modify the views of Russia’s football fans, then it will have done some good.

With the tournament now months away and a majority of the preparation completed, FIFA will maintain the tournament is too close to cancel. Estimates suggest Russia has invested as much as $10bn in the tournament and against a backdrop of sanctions and the falling price of oil.

Perhaps though, it’s time to focus on what it’s easy to forget: these tournaments are about football. If FIFA had done its job properly the questions people would really be asking is, who will win? Betting top 10 gives you a breakdown of the best odds online. Further, does 2018 mark the end of the Messi – Ronaldo era of dominance, following that of Zidane – Ronaldo up until 2006? How will Panama and Morocco, and their fans, fare for the first time?

While there are many valid reasons for stripping both Russia and Qatar of their World Cups’, it is increasingly likely both tournaments have already fended enough punches to survive and take place. Perhaps then, it may therefore be time to accept what will be and focus on football instead of politics, in hope the World Cup brings wide-reaching benefits to both countries.

@thefballfaculty