On June 14, the 21st FIFA World Cup kicked off in Russia, the first World Cup held in Eastern Europe. The bidding procedure for nations to host the tournament began in January 2009, with Russia winning hosting rights in December 2010. In an opening statement, President Vladimir Putin welcomed football fans alongside FIFA President Gianna Infantino, and described Russia as an “open, hospitable, and friendly” country.
For years, Russia has been rightfully under fire for its atrocious human rights record inside and beyond its borders; among the direst of its crimes is Russian involvement in Syria. Russia’s support for Bashar al-Assad has unquestionably influenced the war, allowing for the Syrian president to make significant gains. Putin’s airstrikes have indiscriminately killed and displaced massive numbers of Syrians and killed or injured countless civilians. Ignoring a clause that calls for protection and promotion for human rights in its new Human Rights Policy, FIFA has not done enough to challenge or address these various crimes committed by Russia.
In a chilling piece for The New Arab, Sam Hamad writes about the glory of the World Cup against the backdrop of Russia’s war crimes and involvement in Syria. As he argues, Russia is using the spectacle of the global football tournament to whitewash its crimes and normalize Russian imperialism.
Russia’s hosting of the world cup while ignoring its war crimes in Syria normalizes Putin’s geopolitical agenda.
The silence surrounding Russia’s genocidal intervention in Syria was always a sign that Russian imperialism was winning, but Russia’s World Cup will lead to a new level of normalisation for its brutally sinister geopolitical agenda.
Imagine the outrage of particularly the global Left, if this was any country other than Russia.
Imagine if the US had held the World Cup during the Iraq war. There would be rightful outrage – campaigns and protests. In fact, think of the rightful indignation when it was announced that Eurovision would be held in Jerusalem, given Israel’s illegal occupation and annexation – or the logic of boycotting nations committing active human rights abuses in general.
Yes, there exists a host of international sanctions that literally have zero effect in terms of shifting Putin’s policy, but what about organic solidarity or opposition to Russia’s genocidal, revanchist imperialist machinations?
The tragic reality is that Russian fascism navigates itself essentially unhindered through an ocean of blood in Syria, while it casts its menacing shadow over European capitals with little to no popular resistance.
Football and other sports have long been viewed as a unifying event. This time, however, as FIFA and football fans ignore Russia’s human rights record, a genocide continues. Read Hamad’s full piece here.