In the Russian town of Ekaterinburg, 14 households are currently cut off from the gas supplies for a month during the FIFA 2018 World Cup. The official reason, given by the authorities, is that the high-pressure gas supply is considered to be too dangerous during the period when the town hosts four group matches. This begs the question of whether the gas supply is intrinsically dangerous, in which case the danger is present before and after the World Cup, or if it is the presence of thousands of foreign supporters and world-wide media coverage that increases the risk of an explosion.
This is just one example of Russia’s cynical use of world-wide attention, during a sporting competition, to cover up the dire failures of a regime and social infra-structure that should no longer exist in our time. Vladimir Putin’s is desperately keen to revamp Russia’s image, and God forbid that anything as serious as a gas explosion should occur whilst the whole world is watching. Let the explosion happen in September, when everyone is long gone.
I used to think that you should never mix politics and sport, but seeing the way that Putin has used this sporting event as a PR for his evil regime, has changed my mind.
It’s quite sickening to think that the first kick of the ball, at this year’s competition, will make the whole world forget what Russia is really doing. The marvellous skills of Ronaldo and Messi will serve as a cover-up for the annexation of Crimea, the war in Ukraine, the killing of innocent civilians in Syria, the repression of Russian dissidents, and the fact that flight MH-17 was blown to smithereens. Not forgetting, of course, the machiavellic attempt to eliminate a former Russian spy with a nerve agent, on UK soil.
I don’t often agree with UK foreign secretary Boris Johnson, but there is a grain of truth in his comments over the fact that Putin is, “glorying in this sporting event,” rather akin to what Hitler was doing, in 1936.
Although Vladimir Putin has said several times that sport and politics must not mix, Russia takes its sports seriously, and the Russians will do anything to enhance the performances of its athletes. This is underscored by the doping scandal, last year, when it was revealed that there was a state-directed programme of doping for Russian Olympic athletes. The Olympic team was banned from the 2018 Winter Games in South Korea, and 51 athletes were stripped of the medals they had won at the 2014 Games, in Sochi.
It was time for Russian revenge. Swedish sport’s governing body had its computers hacked into by the Russian group Fancy Bears, who accessed and published the records of doping tests performed on Swedish athletes. This incident mirrors another attack, in which the same group hacked the World Anti-Doping Agency, WADA. The released documents included fake data. Fancy Bears, also known as APT28, has been linked to a Russian intelligence agency and possible operations including an attack on the Democratic National Committee, ahead of the 2016 American presidential elections.
The use of performance-enhancing drugs is probably the only criterion that everyone would agree is sufficient reason to be banned from international competition. You won’t be surprised to learn then, that Cornel Borbély, FIFA’s ethics committee chairman, who was investigating the alleged role of Russia’s deputy prime minister for sport, tourism and youth policy, Vitaly Mutko, in state-sponsored doping, was suddenly sacked by FIFA, in May 2017. Was he on to something? It’s quite incredible that although the International Olympic Committee sacked Mutko for his involvement in the state-sponsored doping of Russian athletes, FIFA did absolutely nothing to remove him from the presidency of the Russian football association.
For Vladimir Putin, the World Cup is more than just about a football competition. It’s not as if Russia is going to win it, unless he knows something that we don’t. What is at stake here, is Russia’s reputation in the world, its reemergence as a world power, and regaining its seat at the table of top nations. Let bygones be bygones, seems to be the Russian motto – it’s time to move on and concentrate on the positives.
It can be argued that FIFA, football’s world governing body, is in no position to judge what is morally justifiable and what is not. The selection of Russia to hold this year’s World Cup, and Qatar, in 2022, reflects the profound flaws in FIFA’s electoral system, where members lobby each other for votes. It also reflects the lack of ethics of FIFA’s governing elite.
Did the Russians really cheat in order to get the World Cup?
Unfortunately, due to Russian contempt of FIFA rules, we will never know. Vladimir Putin did his absolute best to help the Russian cause, by meeting FIFA Executive Committee (ExCo) members who voted in the World Cup bidding process, on six separate occasions. Amongst the ExCo members, was Jack Warner, the man later to be found guilty of corruption, and was excommunicated from the FIFA clan.
But how could the Russians find enough money to bribe multi-millionaire FIFA ExCo members, when they could not afford to buy a couple of computers and filing cabinets, to put some order in their ever mounting paperwork?
In his publication entitled, “Report on Issues Related to the Russian Bid Team”, Cornel Borbély of the FIFA Ethics Committee, makes it quite clear that the Russians did their best to cooperate with the investigation. The FIFA Ethics Committee was informed,
· that best efforts to search for copies of any correspondence were applied and that all documents found were submitted to the Investigatory Chamber for review;
· that no copies of bidding phase communication remained in their possession, nor did the leased computers, which were returned to the owner (the Konoplyov Football Academy) at the conclusion of the Bidding Process. Upon request, the donor confirmed that the computers were destroyed once they were returned by the Russia Bid Committee, as they were considered obsolete
· that Google Russia was contacted immediately upon receipt of the Investigatory Chamber’s communication asking to restore the Gmail accounts the Russia Bid Committee had used during the Bidding Process
In a letter dated 29 April 2014, Google Russia informed the Russia Bid Committee that it did not administer Gmail.com and that requests in relation thereto should be sent to Google USA. Mr Djordjadze sent a corresponding request to Google USA on 20 May 2014 .
In relation to the above and upon request, Mr Sorokin further notified the Investigatory Chamber of the FIFA Ethics Committee in a letter dated 1 August 2014:
· that it would be difficult to provide the Investigatory Chamber of the FIFA Ethics Committee with the audit reports of the Russian Government of the Russia Bid Committee, since pursuant to the Regulation of the Accounts Chamber of the Russian Federation, audit reports were sensitive documents that could not be issued to non-authorised parties;
· that still no answer had been received from Google USA relating to the request to make available the communications from the Gmail accounts used by the Russia Bid Committee during the Bidding Process, even though such request had been received by Google USA on 23 May 2014; and
· that another request had been forwarded to the Konoplyov Football Academy with regard to the computers used and returned by the Russia Bid Committee, but that in the interim, ownership in the academy had changed; the current management was not aware of what was happening four years ago and former employees of the academy at the relevant time could no longer be reached.
The FIFA Ethical Committee could only investigate on the basis of the information that was made available. Destroyed papers, leased computers, and murky academy management, only underscore the greyness of what went on inside FIFA.
I ask myself how wicked a country has to be, not to host the World Cup. Obviously, Russia, and future hosts Qatar, do fit the bill, but not enough, it seems, to prevent them from hosting such a prestigious event. Since Russia is the champion of fake news, it might just be fitting that the Russian footballers be the winners of their own fake World Cup. But then again, if “Les Bleus” win, I really couldn’t care less who hosts the competition.