Sport and politics should never mix? Correct? Now, wouldn’t that be a nice world to live in? However, is this really the reality?
This debate has bubbled away for some time and was reopened when Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson suggested that as a reaction to the poisoning of Sergei Skripal, the UK could boycott the World Cup in Russia. This comment immediately drew scorn from football pundit Gary Neville who called the Foreign Secretary a “useless tool” and questioned “why bring football into it?”
This was a naïve response. Sport has been used to bind a nation together (Rugby World Cup in South Africa in 1995), make a powerful political statement (raising of the black glove in the 1968 Olympics), or even make a diplomatic breakthrough (North and South Korea uniting for the 2018 Winter Olympics). Additionally, it was used by an inhumane leadership to glorify their nation (1936 Olympics in Germany), appease a racist regime (England’s initial decision not to pick Basil D’Oliviera in 1969 for a tour of South Africa) or promote a false image of strength and superiority (Russia state sponsored doping in 2012 and 2014).Sport; has always been interlinked with politics.
Mainly, this is because its reach and appeal has always made it an incredibly effective way to make a political statement. It would be foolish to believe Vladimir Putin has not considered how this World Cup can be used to strengthen his position and boost the image of Russia. This, from a man who has committed or ordered numerous unspeakable acts and is likely guilty of a chemical weapons attack in this country. When dealing with Putin, we have a duty to consider all options available to us including withdrawing from the competition.
If England, alongside other nations opted to withdraw from the World Cup it would send a clear signal to Putin and would be humiliating to him. This is one of a number of diplomatic weapons we have at our disposal. In this current climate where we are looking to take a political stand against Russia, this option should not be taken off the table.
We may wish that the World Cup in Russia could be viewed as totally abstract from everything else happening in the world. But, that simply wouldn’t be satisfactory. It is time to consider whether England should attend the World Cup this summer.
Photograph: The Metro
Article by Mike Hough