Did Vladimir Putin have a bad cold? Was he visiting a love child in Switzerland? Recovering after a particularly wild bachelor party in Atlantic City?
Whatever the truth of the Russian president’s ten-day absence from public view, Vlad’s back in action now – just in time for the latest Ukraine-related controversy.
Exactly one year after a dodgy referendum saw voters in Crimea agree to join Russia, Ukraine president Petro Poroshenko urged allies to boycott the 2018 World Cup if Russia does not pull its troops.
“I think there has to be discussion of a boycott of this World Cup. As long as there are Russian troops in Ukraine I think a World Cup in that country is unthinkable,” he said.
Russian aggression in the region has attracted widespread international condemnation. Not from FIFA, though. Because soccer and politics don’t mix, see? Completely separate, according to FIFA president Sepp Blatter. “Football cannot only unite Russia, but can also show the whole world that it is stronger than any protest movement,” he said last October on a visit to Russia, while shaking a tambourine and offering everyone in the room a group hug.
Tell that to Shakhtar Donetsk, whose stadium was damaged by shelling last August, meaning they’re stuck playing in Lviv, 750 miles away.
Tell that to the families of John Alder and Liam Sweeney, two Newcastle fans on their way to watch a preseason game who were among 298 people killed when a Malaysia Airlines flight was downed over Eastern Ukraine.
The whole “soccer and politics don’t mix” thing rings hollow considering FIFA has admitted that if Ukraine qualify for 2018 they might be placed in a different group to the hosts. And what’s the deal with saying that soccer and politics are separate, then claiming that the sport has the potential to effect genuine change on a country? If that were true, wouldn’t it be political by definition? And if soccer and politics don’t mix, why does every nation’s head of state get involved in the World Cup bidding process? And why is Russia’s state gas company, Gazprom, such a prominent sponsor of FIFA and UEFA?
While it’s resolutely resisted calls to sanction or boycott Russia, FIFA’s been more vocal about Russia’s racism problem. Vice-president Jeffrey Webb told ESPN that Russia shouldn’t host the tournament unless it’s dealt with.
And in 2013, FIFA asked Russia for details about its homophobic laws banning gay “propaganda” amid concerns that such discrimination would make the country an unacceptable World Cup host. Essentially, FIFA, like the IOC before it, would like reassurances that Russia won’t actually enforce its bigoted law for the duration of the competition.
Soccer and politics are separate, except when they’re not.