“Not Only the Players”

The football season in the various European lands is coming to a close, usually meaning that tension mounts over which team will end up at the top of those various leagues,* while at the same time the main cup-competitions proceed to their final stages. Then, since this is an odd year, we can look forward to a peaceful summer devoid of the big football competitions between national teams (and of any Olympics).

Not so fast, though: Had you forgotten about the Confederations Cup? That involves national teams, although not as many, since it’s a somewhat more abbreviated tournament that FIFA puts on only for the champion national teams of the six world regional football confederations, together with the current World Cup champion and the host nation.

And there’s the problem: That host nation is traditionally the same one scheduled to host the World Cup itself the very next year; you could say that the Confederations Cup, in a minor way, serves as a sort of dress-rehearsal to make sure the country can handle the big show coming around after another 12 months’s time. For 2017/2018, then, we are talking about the Russian Federation. And that is a problem.

Clearly, there is no way the Russian Federation should be hosting 2018’s gala World Cup tournament, or even this year’s somewhat scaled-down Confederations Cup. Here are some reasons:

  1. Ukraine/Crimea: Headlining them all, Russia forcibly altered European borders back in early 2014 when it occupied the Crimea (at first denying it was involved at all); since shortly after it did that, its military and resource-support has been crucial for maintaining ongoing military conflict in Eastern Ukraine against the legitimate government.
  2. Economic sanctions: As a result, shortly after that both the EU and the United States imposed economic sanctions, specifically targeted to Russia and the rebel Ukrainian forces it controls fulfilling the conditions of the Minsk Agreement. That was a peace agreement (actually, the second attempt at such) for settling the Ukraine situation reached in Minsk by Ukrainian, Russian and European representatives, and it has yet to be adhered to. If Russia is under such widespread international sanctions, then why is there even any question of allowing it to host any international tournament at all?
  3. Bribery: The answer, of course, is money. Recall how Russia (and also Brazil, for that matter) was flush with petro-dollars back in 2009/10 when the oil price was much higher. Not coincidentally, that was the time-period when Russia gained the rights to host so many such international tournaments: not only the 2018 World Cup (and, so, this summer’s Confederations Cup) but also, for example, the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics. We all should be well familiar with the way money talks when it comes to FIFA and Olympics decisions; this summer’s and next year’s football tournaments clearly are the poisoned fruit of a notoriously corrupt selection process. A related point: As those Sochi Olympics so brazenly illustrated, it’s clear that Putin has an important secondary objective to sheer national prestige-building when it comes to hosting such events, namely that the facilities-building they require offer him a handy way to steer more money to his rich cronies through the awarding of corrupt construction contracts.
  4. Doping: Meanwhile, the Russians can’t even be bothered to play fair. We all recall how all Russian track-and-field contestants were banned from the 2016 Summer Games, precisely because of how the Russians were found to have engaged in State-supported schemes to evade doping controls in past international athletic competitions (most especially past Olympic Games) to give their athletes unfair advantages. These notorious international dopers – State-supported – are supposed to be allowed to host international athletic competitions?
  5. Racism: Finally, there is the racism that repeated incidents show is far from disappearing from Russian football fandom. Black players are subject to monkey-chants, bananas, and the like. Is this what we want at the World Cup?

Lack of Enthusiasm All Around

Fortunately, much is not going smoothly in the approach to that Confederations Cup tournament. As the Die Welt piece linked to in the above tweet recounts, there seems to be a distinct lack of enthusiasm for it. First, among some players, who perhaps were looking for a summer of rest in this odd-numbered year, in-between their demanding league seasons. Mats Hummels, for example, the Bayern Munich and Germany defender:

I would hardly mind it if I were one of the players permitted to recuperate and so not required to participate [in the Confederations Cup], as I have played relatively quite a lot in the last few years.

It’s not just the players, though. As this piece in The Independent shows (thus, in English), ticket-sales have been clearly falling behind. Figures released by the Russian government last month show that, out of 695,000 tickets available, only 211,475 had been bought by that stage (including sales to Russian nationals, of course, which are particularly favored by the lower prices they encounter compared to foreign fans).

To some extent, I am of a mixed mind regarding this state of developments. One part of me wants the Confederations Cup to go ahead as normal – as it will undoubtedly do, be it with reduced attendances. The racism will still be there, the bureaucracy and police-state aspect of Russian life as well, so that that summer experience will discredit Russia’s reputation of being able to stage such events successfully and more evidence will be added to the argument that the World Cup proper of next year should be moved somewhere else.

On the other hand, no such additional information should be necessary. Simply peruse again my bullet-pointed charge-sheet just up above; yes, those best-of-the-best international football players should be allowed their summer rest, but above all, any sense of international propriety and morality should have moved FIFA to find an alternative host for the 2018 World Cup long ago.

* Not in Scotland, though: even as I write this, Celtic Glasgow have already won the League there.

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