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article imageBar Russia from hosting 2018 soccer World Cup — UK Deputy PM

By Robert Myles     Jul 27, 2014 in Politics
London - The UK’s Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, has called for Russia to be stripped of its scheduled hosting of the 2018 World Cup soccer finals.
The demand was made by the leader of the UK’s Liberal-Democrats, the government coalition partner of UK Prime Minister David Cameron’s Conservative Party, in an interview with the Sunday Times (paywall). It follows the shooting down of a Malaysia Airlines jet from the skies over Ukraine, with the finger of blame for Flight MH17’s abrupt end pointing to Moscow-backed armed rebels operating in eastern Ukraine.
Deputy PM Clegg said it would be “unthinkable” for Russian President Vladimir Putin to bask in the prestige of hosting the world’s premier international football tournament. His call for an alternative host country to displace Russia was made as part of Clegg urging for a raft of tougher sanctions against Moscow.
“After this terrible, terrible downing of that jet, it is essential that the European Union gets tough on Vladimir Putin,” the Sunday Times quotes Clegg.
Advocating a package of measures being put in place to bring pressure to bear on Russia, Clegg said threatening to withdraw the World Cup would be "a very potent political and symbolic sanction".
"If there's one thing that Vladimir Putin cares about, as far as I can see, it's his sense of status," the Deputy PM said.
"Maybe reminding him that you can't retain the same status in the world if you ignore the rest of the world... maybe that will have some effect on his thinking."
Russia was one of four bids, all from European countries, that made it to the voting round to host the 2018 World Cup finals. With South Africa having hosted the 2010 tournament and Brazil the host country for 2014, it was inevitable the 2018 World Cup finals would return to Europe.
Russia won out in the second round of voting picking up 13 votes against competing bids from Spain and Portugal (joint bid — 7 votes) and Netherlands and Belgium (joint bid — 2 votes). England was also bidding to host the tournament but were eliminated in the first voting round.
Last week, FIFA dismissed calls from a number of German politicians for Russia to be boycotted. FIFA claimed holding the 2018 football tournament in Russia could be a “force for good.”
A statement on FIFA’s website read, “History has shown so far that boycotting sport events or a policy of isolation or confrontation are not the most effective ways to solve problems. The hosting of the FIFA World Cup with the global attention it attracts can be a powerful catalyst for constructive dialogue between people and governments, helping to bring positive social developments. The FIFA World Cup unites teams and nations from all over the world, from the qualifiers to the final competition in a spirit of fair play and respect.”
FIFA’s words will be cold comfort to friends and relatives of John Alder and Liam Sweeney, two Newcastle United fans, who rarely missed a game. So dedicated were they in following their favourite club, Alder and Sweeney were on board Flight MH17 en route to New Zealand to watch their team play in pre-season friendly matches against local opposition.
In contrast to FIFA’s position, Mr. Clegg said of Putin, “He can't constantly... push the patience of the international community beyond breaking point, destabilise a neighbouring country, protect these armed separatists in the east of Ukraine and still have the privilege and honour of receiving all the accolades in 2018 for being the host nation of the World Cup."
Clegg added, "You can't have this - the beautiful game marred by the ugly aggression of Russia on the Russian-Ukrainian border."
At the end of last week, the European Union extended sanctions against Russia adding a further 15 individuals and 18 bodies-corporate to those already announced. The affected individuals and corporations are subject to asset freezes. Further sanctions are in prospect as the EU considers extending punitive measures to state-owned banks' access to capital markets and to the arms and energy sectors, reports The Guardian.
If FIFA were to withdraw hosting from Moscow, all three competing host applicants would have no difficulty stepping into the breach. Each unsuccessful candidate for the 2018 finals has an abundance of modern stadia and is well capable of hosting the tournament, now extended to 32 qualifying nations and spread over four weeks.
Should the calls for Russia to be disbarred from holding the 2018 World Cup finals become more strident, FIFA still has plenty of time to alter course.
But the same could not be said of motorsport’s Formula 1. Sochi in Russia, host city of the 2014 Winter Olympics, is the scheduled venue for the first Russian Grand Prix in a century. Previously, Saint Petersburg hosted the only Russian Grand Prix races ever held in 1913 and 1914.
Formula 1 boss Bernie Ecclestone has already faced calls to pull the Russian Grand Prix from Sochi. Senior UK Conservative Member of Parliament, David Davis, a ‘heavyweight’ with previous ministerial experience as a former Foreign Office minister said, “If Russia continues as they have been doing, then the grand prix is one of many things that they should be denied. The morally proper thing to do is put the race on hold.”
But recent history doesn’t augur well for the Grand Prix being moved from Sochi. In recent years, the Formula 1 governing body, the FIA face heavy criticism for ploughing ahead with the Bahrain Grand Prix even as Bahrain was awash with violent anti-government protests and bloodshed on the streets.
Responding to demands that the Sochi race be moved, Formula 1 supremo Ecclestone, a personal friend of Vladimir Putin, told the Daily Mail, “I don’t see any problem with going. We are not involved in politics. We have a contract with them. We’ll respect it 100 per cent and so will Mr Putin, I’m sure. He’s been very supportive.”
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