Marco Levytsky, Western Bureau Chief.
The Ukrainian Canadian Congress (UCC) has welcomed the decision by the Canadian and American Biathlon Associations to boycott the Biathlon World Cup event being held in Tyumen, Russia, March 19-26, and called upon the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) to show the same commitment to principles as those demonstrated by the Canadian and American Biathlon Associations and remove the FIFA World Cup from Russia. The event is scheduled to be held June 14 to July 15 at 12 venues in 11 host cities scattered throughout that country.
“Russia has no business holding a prestigious international event such as the FIFA World Cup,” stated Paul Grod, National President of the UCC. “The FIFA World Cup should be immediately removed from Russia and transferred to a country that does not wage wars of aggression, commit war crimes, dope its athletes, or seek to undermine the foundations upon which the international rules-based order is built.”
While this issue is strictly academic as there is no chance FIFA will reverse its earlier decision to allow a pariah state like Russia to host this prestigious event, it is nevertheless a principled one, and brings the whole question of why Russia should not be allowed to bask in the limelight of international sports exposure to the forefront. And it’s an issue that deserves serious debate.
Let’s examine just some of the arguments why Russia should never have been allowed to host this event in the first place.
War in Ukraine
Calls to remove the tournament from Russia began just as soon as Moscow initiated its war against Ukraine in 2014. U.S. Senator Dan Coats wrote to then FIFA President Sepp Blatter stating Russia be barred from the 2018 World Cup due to its annexation of Crimea. His call was echoed by several U.S. and British politicians. Two American Republican senators, Dan Coats and Mark Kirk, went so far as to suggest Russia should not only be prevented from hosting a World Cup but also be banned from participating in it, bringing up the precedent of Yugoslavia being banned from Euro ’92 and the 1994 World Cup and proclaiming equivalence between Russia hosting the Cup with the appeasement of the Nazis and Adolf Hitler in the 1930s before WW II.
Malaysia Airlines Flight 17
It has been conclusively proven that Russia was responsible for launching the missile that blew a civilian airplane out of the sky just above the Donbas in 2014, killing all 298 people aboard. This prompted even more calls to remove the World Cup from Russia. As in other cases, they were ignored by FIFA.
Following the apparent poisoning of former spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter in Salisbury in the United Kingdom, the British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson announced that the British government were considering cancelling official visits to the World Cup if Russian involvement was proved. The participation of the England team would not be affected. On March 12, British Prime Minister Theresa May said her government has concluded it is “highly likely” Russia is responsible for the poisoning with a military-grade nerve agent known as Novichok. We’ll see what happens.
Doping in Russia
Russia has had the most (51) Olympic medals stripped for doping violations of any country in the world – four times the number of the runner-up, and more a third of the global total. From 2011 to 2015, more than a thousand Russian competitors in various sports, including summer, winter, and Paralympic sports, benefited from a cover-up. Following allegations by a Russian former lab director about the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) commissioned an independent investigation led by Richard McLaren. McLaren’s investigation found corroborating evidence, concluding in a report published in July 2016 that the Ministry of Sport and the Federal Security Service (FSB) had operated a “state-directed failsafe system” using a “disappearing positive [test] methodology” (DPM) from “at least late 2011 to August 2015”.
In response to such revelations, the International Olympic Commission (IOC) came under intense pressure to ban Russia from the 2018 Winter Olympics. Instead it came up with the farcical solution of allowing Russian athletes to compete as “Olympic Athletes from Russia” (OAR), as if that made any difference.
Racism in Russia
After it was announced that Russia would host 2018 FIFA World Cup, Dr Rafał Pankowski, a head of UEFA FARE Monitoring Centre, accused the Russian Football Union of downplaying racist chants in stadiums. In October 2013, after allegedly being racially abused by fans of the Russian club CSKA Moscow, Ivory Coast player Yaya Touré stated that black players might boycott the 2018 World Cup unless Russia tackles racism in soccer.
In response to the perceived heavy amounts of discrimination against LGBT people in the country, a number of petitions have been circulated calling for FIFA to strip Russia of hosting rights. Thousands have signed these petitions, including United States senators Mark Kirk and Dan Coats and gay rights activists Greg Louganis, Stephen Fry and George Takei.
Killing of stray dogs and cats
The Russian government has issued tenders for so-called dogkhanteri (dog hunters) to shoot and poison up to 2 million street dogs and cats in the cities where the World Cup will be held. Opponents of such actions say the victims of such culling are often pets or semidomesticated dogs that are less afraid of people and therefore more vulnerable. More than 1 million people have signed an online petition asking the Russian government to stop this slaughter. But it is nothing new. Prior to the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russian officials conducted a massive campaign to kill stray dogs in the city, some with a poison that caused an agonizing death. A few lucky canines managed to be saved and adopted by Canadians and Americans.
The reason why the World Cup will be held in Russia is the same as why Russia was allowed to compete in the 2018 Winter Olympics under the ludicrous title of “OAR”, namely that both FIFA and the IOC are gutless wonders that stubbornly refuse to take any stand on principle, but bow to the pressure that Russia as a world superpower can exert. Rump Yugoslavia (consisting at that time of Serbia and Montenegro) was banned from Euro ‘92 and the 1994 World Cup because of the wars it was conducting in Bosnia and Croatia and the atrocities that accompanied those wars. White-ruled South Africa was subjected to numerous sports boycotts due to its policy of Apartheid. But Russia appears immune.
Sports boycotts have been initiated in the past against countries considered pariah states due to the actions of the regimes in power. Putin’s Russia most certainly fits the definition of a pariah state. It invades its neighbours killing innocent civilians in order to achieve its imperial ambitions, tramples on the civil rights of its citizens and, as far as sports are concerned, has initiated an officially-sanctioned doping program of unprecedented proportions. Hosting the 2018 World Cup may be a feather in Vladimir Putin’s cap, but for the rest of the world it is nothing short of a global disgrace.