The United Kingdom’s (UK) Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has called upon FIFA to strip the 2018 World Cup soccer tournament from Russia. Clegg has expressed his feelings that the world would look weak if the tournament is not taken away, citing that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s behavior toward the Ukraine has gone too far.
The situation around the site of the downed Malaysian airliner seems to be the tipping point that led Clegg to make the suggestion that FIFA should take action. Clegg stated that the Russian President is focused on his sense of status more than anything else. According to Clegg, Putin should not be rewarded with the World Cup after destabilizing the Ukraine, protecting armed Russian separatists in that same country, and exhausting the patience of the rest of the world with the lack of support to cease fighting around the downed airliner to allow a visit by international experts to investigate the plane wreckage.
Clegg is the highest ranking UK politician to make such a call to FIFA, and it did not stop with at stripping the World Cup from Russia. Clegg also called upon Formula 1 to not hold this season’s Grand Prix in Russia this October. The statements Clegg made on the subject is anticipated to put pressure on Prime Minister David Cameron to make a statement on the situation. With Clegg the leader of the Liberal Democrat party and Cameron the top man in the Conservative party in the UK’s two-party coalition, the Prime Minister may feel forced into clarifying his position on the statement’s made by Clegg.
Regardless of whatever position Cameron takes, FIFA has already made a statement on the call for stripping Russia of the World Cup. The soccer worlds governing body dismissed a similar request to revoke Russia’s World Cup from Germany stating that the tournament could be “a force of good.” In a statement, FIFA, while reenforcing the organization’s stand against violence in any form, responded that the idea of moving the tournament because of violence or boycotting a sporting event due to violence is not an effective way to solve problems. Instead, FIFA points to the love of the beautiful game could actually be a powerful tool to begin a conversation between countries in dispute.
The Dutch Football Association, despite FIFA’s statement, may move forward with a boycott. After almost 200 Dutch citizens lost their lives when the Malaysian airliner was shot down, the Association is planning a vote to decide if the country will participate in World Cup qualifying games, removing any Dutch involvement with the championship tournament in protest. If there is a boycott by the Dutch Football Association, Dutch officials would likely be included in the boycott and withdraw their names from the selection process to officiate the matches in Russia.
Prior to the World Cup in Brazil this year, FIFA faced numerous concerns over violence in each South American host city. The threats of violence and accused corruption scandals that resulted in unfinished venues caused some doubt if the tournament could be pulled off. Facing multiple protests and threats of violence, FIFA proved doubters wrong with a successful month in Brazil. Now, with the unrest in Russia and the Ukraine, FIFA appears to be standing firm in their belief that once a host is picked, the tournament will go on. Apart from the calls to pull the tournament from Russia, the soccer organization is also under scrutiny for awarding the 2022 tournament to Qatar. FIFA has received request for the organization to move the tournament to another country, like the United States, purely over a concern of safety for the players and fans. The concern is the extreme heat of the region being too dangerous to play in, or sit in a packed stadium.
As FIFA stands their ground and denies the call from the UK to strip the World Cup from Russia, the soccer governing body has another sporting organization standing by them. Despite the call by Clegg, Formula 1 boss Bernie Ecclestone has stated that the Grand Prix race set for Russia this year will go on as planned. FIFA may reconsider their current stand if the current struggles in the region escalate to a point that there is a clear and present danger facing the games and the fans planning to attend.
By Carl Auer