Wednesday, 28 March 2018

Boycott the World Cup properly, not diplomatically

The attempted assassination by assailants unknown on the Skripal family in Salisbury, England, has prompted the kind of decisive political action that the Russian annexation of the Crimea, the country's mass-murderous involvement in bombing Syrian rebels, the suppression of domestic dissent and gay rights, and its state-sanctioned blanket cheating at the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics was unable to provoke. Yes, some countries will be boycotting the 2018 World Cup.

Not an actual boycott, though - just a symbolic one. Rather than withdrawing their teams, countries are apologetically deciding to keep their official delegations at home. So, politicians on a free jaunt to watch some football are sacrificing themselves. The retreating refugees of eastern Ghouta will surely be impressed. And just imagine the hurt of the Russians when they see that the Icelandic
foreign minister hasn't taken up his seat for the team's opening game against Argentina on June 16th.
Cagey B - Russia 2018's cutie cat mascot
 who'll be keeping a watchful eye
 on fans - for security reasons, of course!
(Illustration - @Urban_Country)

A short piece in the sports section of today's Süddeutsche Zeitung, however, finally broaches the previously uncharted idea of making a boycott worthwhile. "Completely excluding [team] boycotts is not only strategically unwise," writes Johannes Aumüller. "It also grants a blank cheque to all authoritarian states - where sport so frequently stages its big events - to continue doing whatever they want."

Football, he argues, is theoretically an innocent pastime, but it's long since been seized by politics. While German FA president Reinhard Grindel may have recently stated that tournaments are no place for posing politicians, the reality is that states like Russia exploit mass events to project a positive image of themselves, externally as well as internally.

A diplomatic boycott is all well and good, he continues, but a team boycott would be clearly more effective. If the teams from all the EU countries boycotted the event, it would be "devalued as a sporting spectacle, and a major goal of Russia's autocracy would be obsolete - to stage-manage this four-and-a-half week summer event as Vladimir Putin's propaganda show."

Olly G, Russia 2018's cuddly wolverine
 mascot (Illustration: @Urban_Country)
The idea of a team boycott, concludes Aumüller, should not be taboo. Instead, it should be very much on the table. At Sochi 2014, sport openly schmoozed with Putin, then just days after the event was over his country illegally occupied the Crimea. Sport supposedly built international bridges, as the cliché goes, but the Russian President quickly destroyed them shortly after waving the world off at the airport.

I've already stated that as a fan I won't be watching a single minute of the 2018 World Cup. I fully support the Süddeutsche Zeitung's position that a sporting boycott of the event should, at the very least, be up for discussion instead of being dismissed with a glib, "Well, that won't happen." Why shouldn't it? How important does football think it is that the sport can ignore its hosts' serial breaches of human rights merely in the interests of playing previously scheduled games?

Check out Russia 2018's super-cute mascots in full here at the World Cup Human Rights blog.

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