Carlo's Think Pieces

Reflections of a Filipino in the Netherlands

Let Russia Host FIFA World Cup 2018

Posted by butalidnl on 10 August 2014

FIFA has reiterated its decision to hold the 2018 World Cup in Russia, in the face of mounting calls to transfer it in the wake of Russia’s annexation of Crimea. This issue is complicated – Russia has indeed violated international law; but at the same time, sports events also have a tradition of not being swayed by political events.

The last time an international sports event suffered because of politics was in 1980, when many countries refused to go to Olympics scheduled to be held in Moscow because of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. The Soviets responded with a boycott of the 1984 Olympics held in Los Angeles, and held Friendship Games instead.

I believe that the FIFA is right – nations should stop wars for sports, rather than stop sports because of war. But there are also more practical considerations. First, Russia’s conflict in Ukraine (including its occupation of Crimea) may very well be over by 2018. The sanctions by the EU and other countries are bringing Russia into recession; and they will get even tougher if Russia does not change its behaviour. Russia may very well withdraw from occupied Ukraine before 2018.

Second, if Russia still holds Crimea by 2018, its economy would then be in tatters. The billions of dollars needed to build and renovate 12 stadiums and upgrade other supporting infrastructure will be a heavy burden for them to bear. These will have to be built with little foreign financial support. Hosting the World Cup will effectively be a punishment for them.

Hosting a World Cup will open Russia to large numbers of visitors from all over the world. These people will interact with Russians; giving them an insight into the outside world which cannot be controlled by the Russian media and state. Ideas that Russians get from such encounters could be truly subversive to Kremlin control.

The preparations for the World Cup are already quite advanced in Russia, and transferring the games will mean that FIFA will be slapped with a huge liability. But on the other hand, Russia is also committed to the plans for World Cup 2018 – it cannot deviate significantly from the plans. The list of 11 World Cup cities (12 stadiums; Moscow will have two) had been approved back in 2012. Russia has to make sure the stadiums are ready, even if it will have difficulty getting financing for them. It also cannot include other cities e.g. Sebastopol (in Crimea) into the list anymore.

So, let Russia host World Cup 2018. If it insists on remaining in Crimea by then, the World Cup will be a heavy burden amidst an economic crisis. If it withdraws from Crimea, it will get a lot of international support for its preparations, and its economy will boom. It is the choice that Russia needs to make.

 

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