By Tony Attwood
They are pretty much pariahs around the world – Russian athletes and teams are banned from participating in any form of world sport, as a protest against the invasion of Ukraine.
Except in football, where Russian officials are still welcomed with open arms. So when the Fifa Congress opened in Qatar, there they were, bold as brass.
The Russian flag was flying above the event, although representatives of the Ukraine FA were of course unable to join the meeting.
Even Boris Johnson, not known for his vision and insight into international affairs accused Fifa as providing itself as a “platform to legitimise Russian aggression”.
In a letter to Gianni Infantino, the president of Fifa, the prime minister expressed his “disappointment” that Russian officials were present at the organisation’s congress last week in Qatar, stating that The Russian Football Union, he said, was “effectively a representative body” for the Kremlin.
Russia of course has been prevented from playing Poland in its World Cup qualification play-off and has been banned from the competition. Uefa has excluded Russian clubs from international competitions.
But Fifa, under Infantino, marches on, proud to have the Russians welcomed to the show in Qatar.
From my personal standpoint, I find Fifa’s actions pretty appalling, but also not unexpected. Fifa is the heart and soul of footballing corruption as this site has tried to show across the years, and the fact that its Secretary-General ran away from Switzerland where he is under legal investigation for corruption and set up his new home in Qatar, really tells us everything we need to know.
And when Chris Bryant, the Labour MP who is chair of the all-party parliamentary group on Russia tells The Times “I’m constantly mystified at sporting bodies who do not seem to watch the news, or take enough action if they do,” then one can perhaps start to think that something is stirring in the depths of Westminster. As Mr Bryant added, “They don’t seem to be able to isolate Russia in light of Putin’s appalling war crimes. We must isolate any Russian who wants to take part in world affairs until Russia withdraws.”
Alexey Sorokin was head of the 2018 World Cup organising committee, and he is reported by Martin Ziegler of The Times as saying “We have every right to be here. We find it kind of strange that the Russian team was not allowed to play in this qualification. It’s strange. We feel that our football players and football lovers have nothing to do with it.”
And that of course is the old sporting excuse – the sport had nothing to do with the events elsewhere. Keep politics out of sport.
But sport is politics and politics is sport. The fact quite simply is that countries are political entities. They have borders policed by representatives of the state. So if a football team is the Russian team, it represents Russia which means it represents the Russian state.
Of course, some sporting people will try and wheedle their way around this with the “keep politics out of sport” but the two are utterly entwined.
Now, if the clubs and the countries have any sense of decency they will all step aside from Fifa, and set up a new body, one that is not tainted by past corruption, one that does not have a history of its leaders being found guilty of corruption in courts across the world, one that is not endlessly trying to enlarge its control of not just the national game but also club games (as we have seen with events in Africa this past year), and one that does not look the other way when the rights of workers building the stadia in Qatar are utterly ignored, and finally say, “Enough”.
This should now be the end of Fifa, which should be wound up and thrown out with any other rubbish around. It really is time to start afresh.
Personally, I’d like to get rid of international football totally, and just stay with club football, but if we must have it, can we at least have it without Fifa.
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