Thursday, 14 June 2018
This Dirty World Cup
Yesterday FIFA awarded the 2026 World Cup to the USA, Canada and Mexico. This was a not unexpected and a welcome decision, although it ought to be noted that the US and Mexico will be hosting their second and third tournaments respectively. It does seem odd that the tiny nation of Qatar is hosting the 2022 World Cup alone with the aid of slave labour and having had the entire football calendar moved around them and yet this new era sees three countries with much larger economies and populations doing so collectively. Their decision to pool their resources of course was made long before Trump became president. Nowadays the President doesn't much like his neighbours. He would have preferred a joint bid with the hosts of this year's tournament, or maybe with his new pal Kim Jong-Un.
This year's tournament gets underway in Russia today. Russia probably won the right to host thanks to the usual chicanery we have come to expect from the Putin regime. Such big infrastructure projects are an excellent way for Putin to send cash in the direction of his favoured oligarchs. And they are also an excellent way for him to pose as a great world statesman. Expect Russia to bid for the Olympics any day soon. They had the Winter Olympics but everyone knows that that is a poor substitute for the main event. And fortunately Russia is quite happy to cheat and bully and otherwise coerce its way to such a prize, such as they did to win this World Cup, a bid that was deemed to be a poor one from the point of view of 'threat and risk' by FIFA's own report. Putin will probably have to become Prime Minister again for a term so that he can see the dream of the Olympics come to fruition thanks to constitutional term limits for the presidency, but he's done it before and he is almost certain to do it again. It's no wonder a lying crook like Donald Trump so admires him.
The only upside to Russia being the host of a major tournament such as this is that it obliges them to be on reasonably good behaviour in the run up to and during the great festival of preening and one-upmanship with a side dish of sport. Sure they poisoned a couple of people in Salisbury a few months ago and are still killing people for their pet dictator in Syria in addition to interfering in an election or two, but this constitutes them being relatively benign. We should all beware what they get up to once the last ball is kicked in the final next month. After that all bets are off. More invasions? Menacing the Baltic states. Maybe by then their captive President of the United States will have collapsed Nato giving them free rein.
The world is heading to Russia with no great enthusiasm but as ever they are not letting mere principles and good taste stand in the way. Even the kind of racism and bigotry we are sure to see won't stop any of the teams heading to this vast country with an economy only about the same size as Spain's. Russia is a country with an inflated sense of its own worth, power and importance entirely at odds with its standing in the world. Then again we should probably be happy that sport provides a forum for them to show off and fling further billions at their kleptocrats rather than anything worse. Any sane fan of football will stay well away from the tournament itself and watch it on TV. Not only is it safer that way you won't feel so dirty as you do so. Much the same will apply to Qatar in 4 years time of course. But we'll return to that another day.