A group of US senators are urging the international soccer association FIFA and FIFA President Joseph Sepp Blatter to remove Russia as host of the 2018 FIFA World Cup because of its “aggression” in Ukraine and annexation of Crimea.
In a letter sent Tuesday and released on Wednesday, the 13 Democratic and Republican US lawmakers told Blatter that allowing Russia to host the event “inappropriately bolsters the prestige” of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s government “at a time when it should be condemned,” according to the Associated Press.
The senators wrote in the letter that over 40 countries have imposed sanctions on Russia.
“As you know, nearly a full year has passed since unmarked Russian troops and Russian-backed separatists began their dismemberment of Ukraine,” the senators began their letter.
“Allowing Russia to host the FIFA World Cup inappropriately bolsters the prestige of the [Russian President Vladimir] Putin regime at a time when it should be condemned and provides economic relief at a time when much of the international community is imposing economic sanctions,” the senators said in the letter.
The senators, including Robert Menendez (New Jersey), Ron Johnson (Wisconsin), John McCain (Arizona) and Richard Durbin (Illinois) asked FIFA to hold a special meeting to vote on the issue and select a new host country.
“With the goal of ending the crisis in Ukraine and ensuring a successful 2018 World Cup, we strongly encourage FIFA to deny the Putin regime the privilege of hosting the 2018 World Cup and make preparations for an alternate host country,” they wrote to FIFA; a copy of the letter was sent to the US Soccer Federation.
On December 2 2010, Russia was chosen as the location for the 2018 World Cup, beating out England, a joint bid by Belgium and the Netherlands, and another joint bid by Spain and Portugal.
FIFA spokeswoman rejected calls to move the World Cup out of Russia
FIFA spokeswoman Delia Fischer took a stand against blocking Russia to host the World Cup in her email to the Associated Press
“History has shown so far that boycotting sport events or a policy of isolation or confrontation are not the most effective ways to solve problems,” Fischer wrote Wednesday.
She said that the World Cup “can be a powerful catalyst for constructive dialogue between people and governments, helping to bring positive social developments. We have seen that the FIFA World Cup can be a force for good and FIFA believes this will be the case for the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia.”
Just a month ago, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko urged his allies to boycott the 2018 event unless Putin pulls his troops out from the eastern Ukraine.
According to the German newspaper Bild, Poroshenko told that he usually keeps soccer and politics separate, but this time it’s not possible since top Ukrainian club Shakhtar Donetsk (winner of the UEFA Cup in 2009) has to play its home matches more than 700 miles away in Lviv (the western Ukrainian city) because Donetsk is currently occupied by Russian-backed separatists.
“I think there has to be discussion of a boycott of this World Cup. As long as there are Russian troops in Ukraine, I think a World Cup in that country is unthinkable,” Poroshenko said.
But Ukrainian President’s proposal had receive insignificant international support before the senators’ letter this week.
The world is not that eager to boycott the 2018 World Cup in Russia
Vyacheslav Koloskov, a former FIFA vice president of Russian Football Union (1992-2005), said the West’s attempts to boycott the 2018 World Cup in Russia are doomed to fail, comparing them to the attempts to disrupt last year’s Sochi Winter Olympics after some observers didn’t like Russia’s anti-gay propaganda laws.
“In terms of a boycott, unfortunately Poroshenko is not the first person to talk about this,” Koloskov told Reuters. “There were also attempts to boycott the Winter Olympics. No one was able to do anything then and I think exactly the same will happen with regards to the World Cup.”
“[Joseph] Sepp Blatter often says that politics is politics and football is football. Of course he will not allow a boycott to happen. In Ukraine they don’t know anymore what they are trying to achieve. First one thing, then another, then a third thing.”
“They are not managing to achieve anything. We will host the 2018 World Cup and we will host it well.”
Additionally, Koloskov said there was now a lot of money invested in this event, adding that if a country qualified and then decided not to play they could be banned from the next FIFA World Cup.
“FIFA is very strict in this aspect,” he said. “I don’t think anyone will be risking a boycott given the likely consequences.”
President of the Federation Internationale de Football Association Sepp Blatter said last September that “a boycott in sport never has had any benefit”.
Furthermore, Sebastian Coe, the former chairman of the London Organizing Committee for the Olympic Games (LOCOG), expressed his opinion that sporting boycotts only “damage competitors and athletes.”
“I will always oppose boycotts of sport, because I don’t think they actually achieve what they set out to do,” said Coe, adding that he believes “it is far better to have sport as a soft power, helping change all sorts of things, and we can’t pick, we can’t a la carte menu sport.”
“You either believe in its power to change and to be a catalyst for social and political change or you don’t. I happen to believe that sport has done far more to bring communities together than to isolate and separate them,” he added.