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Corruption, Doping, Homophobia, Hooliganism, Racism, War: #CDHHRW

Corruption, Doping, Homophobia, Hooliganism, Racism, War: #CDHHRW

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Integrity initiative Op-Ed

Six Reasons Why Russia Shouldn’t be Hosting the Football World Cup in 2018

The decision taken in 2010 to award the World Cup to Russia in 2018 was overshadowed by the vote taken at the same meeting to give the following tournament, in 2022, to Qatar. That extraordinary choice meant that the circumstances of the selection of Russia for 2018 were largely ignored. But any analysis of the state of sport and society in Russia should have anyone who is concerned about morality and justice asking not only how it was that Russia was awarded the tournament, but how the country has been allowed to keep it.

Since the tournament was awarded rumours have abounded about Corruption in the Russian bid. There has certainly been Corruption in the way in which companies have been chosen to participate in building the infrastructure for the tournament, with foreign bidders being openly asked for bribes before the Russian authorities would even begin discussions.Based on a private conversation with a British businessman who was bidding for a role in the preparations for the World Cup in Russia.

Corruption seems to have been central in the way Russia ran the 2012 Winter Olympic Games. There are deep suspicions over the way in which those Games were funded. The late Russian opposition politician, Boris Nemtsov, conducted an in-depth report on the Games, and concluded that, “The Winter Olympics in Sochi have turned into one of the most outrageous swindles in the history of modern Russia”. His and other independent analysis of the $50bn spent on the Games – a record sum for any Olympics, Winter or Summer – reckoned that no more than $25bn could have been spent on creating the infrastructure for the Games. No-one ever explained where the other half of the money went. There is a strong smell of Corruption around Russian sport.It is thought that Nemtsov’s report was one of the reasons why he was murdered in February 2015. 1

Another festering sore in Russian sport is the state-sponsored use of illegal drugs: Doping. The two-part McLaren Report, published by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) in July and December 2016, and which ran to 250 pages, stated that more than 1,000 Russians from at least 30 sports, including football, benefited from a state-sponsored Doping programme between 2011 and 2015. This took in the London Olympics in 2012, the 2013 World Athletics Championships in Moscow, and the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, among other events. Hundreds of individual Russian athletes have either already been banned for life from international competition or are under threat of such a ban.23

Homophobia: At a time when tolerance and understanding of people who are “different” from the majority is increasing in liberal Western societies – there are active campaigns to end the persecution of people for their sexual orientation, colour, creed or factors such as disability – Russia is going out of its way to head in the other direction. In June 2013, the State Duma passed the law "For the Purpose of Protecting Children from Information Advocating for a Denial of Traditional Family Values", which was quickly dubbed by the Western media, “the anti-gay law”. Events such as Gay Pride marches are banned in Russia.

A particularly worrying development in 2017 has been the abduction, torture and even murder of at least 100 gay men in the southern Russian republic of Chechnya. The republic’s President, Ramzan Kadyrov, has openly declared that “there are no gays in Chechnya”; and he seems hell bent on making sure that nonsensical claim comes true by forcing gays to flee or by killing them. Amnesty International has even started an online petition, “CHECHNYA: STOP ABDUCTING AND KILLING GAY MEN”.4

Russian football has long been plagued by violence among fans. Those who partake in this particular form of Hooliganism often boast that they have taken to new levels “the English disease” (so-called, because football hooliganism was a particular curse of English football in the 1970’s). Russian football hooligans not only admitted that they travelled to the Euro 2016 football tournament in France to cause trouble, but boasted proudly that they are the toughest hooligans in the world, and that the English fighters are simply “girls”.5 The BBC later tracked down some of the Russian hooligans and interviewed them for a film in February 2017, Russia’s Hooligan Army.6

The man in charge of policing football for the National Police Chiefs’ Council, Deputy Chief Constable Mark Roberts, who co-ordinated Britain’s policing operation at Euro 2016 and will do so again for England at the World Cup, has warned English fans travelling to Russia that they are in danger of being subjected to an “extreme level of violence” at the hands of Russian hooligans.7

The former Russian player, Alexei Smertin, who has been appointed as Russia’s anti-racism and discrimination inspector ahead of the World Cup is at pains to point out that there will be no cases of Racism at the 2018 World Cup. Football Against Racism in Europe (FARE) agrees that Russia has made progress in combatting racism in football in the last couple of years. Even so, the Moscow-based SOVA Centre monitored 89 incidents of Racism during the 2016-2017 football season; down on the 101 incidents monitored the previous season, but nevertheless alarmingly high.8 There are still cases reported of monkey chants from fans and even throwing bananas at black players. When it comes to respecting other countries, Russia still has much to learn.

Nowhere is that lack of respect for other countries by Russia seen more vividly than in its attitude to its neighbour, Ukraine. As if the problems of Corruption, Doping, Homophobia, Hooliganism and Racism were not sufficient for Russia to have the hosting of the World Cup taken away from it, in 2014 Russia illegally seized the territory of Crimea from Ukraine (in an operation it denied having anything to do with until a year later, when President Vladimir Putin boasted on Russian TV that he had ordered the operation); and then started a War in Eastern Ukraine. That War continues. More than 10,000 Ukrainian civilians have died in the fighting, which could be ended only by Russia withdrawing its troops from Ukraine.

It is a hoped-for but hopeless ideal that sport and politics can be separated. There were calls for a boycott of the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin because of the increasingly sinister nature of Adolf Hitler’s Nazi regime. In 1980, the USA boycotted the Moscow Olympics because of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

But the number of reasons why Russia is not fit to host the World Cup in 2018 is unprecedented. As country after country has complained about Russian interference in their elections or referenda, and that Russia is funding extremist political parties and trying to influence public opinion through lies spread on social media or the Kremlin’s TV channel, RT, the international footballing community is getting excited about playing the world’s greatest football tournament in Russia. What will it take for the world to wake up to the reality of what it is doing?

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