FIFA President Joseph Blatter and Russia's President Vladimir Putin pose during handing over of the 2018 FIFA World Cup signed certificate to Russia. (Image: Alexei Nikolsky/AP/RIA Novosti)
Even before the upcoming trials of former FIFA staffers confirm as seems likely that Moscow corruptly secured the hosting of the 2018 World Cup, a finding that would make it unthinkable to allow the competition to occur in Russia, there are already three compelling reasons why the international community should insist it be shifted to another venue.
Two are offered in a commentary today by Volodymyr Ohryzko, a former Ukrainian foreign minister, and the third is provided in a backhanded way by FIFA itself.
First of all, as Ohryzko points out, taking the games away from Russia would give Vladimir Putin a major publicity defeat and prevent him from using the World Cup as he did the Sochi Olympiad to boost his standing in the world. It would thus represent a continuation of the international condemnation and isolation of the Kremlin since its invasion of Ukraine.
Second, he says, taking the competition away from Russia would represent an extension of the West’s sanctions regime against Moscow for its actions in Ukraine by depriving it of the income it might otherwise get. Thus, it would represent “an additional economic sanction,” one that might have a positive impact.
And third, this week FIFA officials attempted to play down the amount of racist violence by Russian fans by suggesting that the Russian government was working hard to rein in such manifestations and that other soccer countries have an even worse record with regard to actions driven by ethnic and religious hatred.
But that FIFA effort has had the effect of calling attention to the amount of soccer violence and to the fact that several black soccer players have already announced they will not take part in the World Cup if it is held in Russia because of fears for their personal security.
That protest, three years in advance of the competition, prompted Russian President Vladimir Putin to declare that holding the World Cup competition in Russia would help the country fight racism, a declaration almost as likely to be true as his claims that there are no Russian troops fighting in Ukraine.