To Russia with Love: Fifa gets portentous view of its future World Cup host at Euro 2016
The level of animosity towards the West from the powers that be in Russia is laid bare for all to see
Book your flights now and make your plans early. The world is coming to Russia in two years for the World Cup and you don’t want to miss out on this once in a lifetime opportunity, particularly after seeing what lies ahead.
Whether they were sent as emissaries for the Russian government or acting independently, highly organised groups of Russian football fans have been throwing out the welcome mat in France at Euro 2016.
After endless scenes of brutal and somewhat unprovoked mayhem, rest assured that the world will be beating a path to their doorstep come 2018. More than anything, more than a number of its high end executives in jail cells and an endless, almost numbing stream of corruption scandals, Russia 2018 and Qatar 2022 will be the most enduring legacies of the odious hubris and criminal entitlement that have permeated the corridors of football’s governing body Fifa since basically forever.
They can talk endlessly about reform, as the current Fifa regime has, but they can’t out-talk or outrun their past.
Russia is certainly not the only country facing a myriad of social issues and suspect governance. Still you would be hard-pressed to find a less desirable locale to host the world’s most popular and prominent sports gathering, the World Cup.
Events in France have laid bare the level of animosity towards the west from the top down in Russia. When Russian fans violently invaded the English section after their teams drew 1-1 in Marseille, it was raw, emotional and seemingly choreographed, just as the prematch brawls that had broken out seemed to be.
The footage is stark, particularly the prematch rumbles. This is no old-school football hooliganism with a bunch of pasty and paunchy lager louts lashing out.
The Russians were burly, fit and seemingly trained to fight, which can’t be a surprise considering that much of the rage in Russia is institutionalised.
After the skirmishes, a high-ranking football executive and Russian MP, Igor Lebedev, tweeted: “I don’t see anything wrong with the fans fighting. Quite the opposite, well done lads, keep it up!”
Meanwhile, Vladimir Markin, the spokesman for Russia’s top investigative agency, claimed that French police could not handle his country’s fans because they were real men and that the police in Marseille are more used to policing “gay pride parades”.
But Markin has clearly never been to Marseille, one of the toughest and hardest port towns in all of Europe.
It took a few days, and a number of harsh threats from tournament organisers to ban the Russian team, for official government spokesmen to condemn the action of some of their fans.
But make no mistake, the sentiments of Lebedev and Markin echo the feelings of Russian governance from President Vladimir Putin on down. Their rhetoric works best domestically when they can perpetuate a conspiracy of Western powers to keep the motherland down.
Now that the international track authorities ruled last week to maintain the ban on Russian athletes competing in the 2016 Rio Games because of an institutionalised doping scandal, the host country of the 2018 World Cup should be even more enraged.
All of this comes back to Fifa’s original and dubious decision to award Russia the right to host the event.
Unlike Qatar, which has zero history of international sporting success, Russia has a rich and fabled sporting pedigree. Whatever you may think of the system that produced them, few nations boast as many distinguished athletes as Russia.
But the modern incarnation of the country under Putin is a paranoid and provocative pariah where dissent is brutally beaten down.
Despite overwhelming video proof, Russia Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko, who is the de facto head of the 2018 World Cup and who was at the match in Marseille, claimed there was actually no clash and the English were just upset.
It’s a pity because the athletes, the fans and the World Cup tournament itself deserve much more.
But if the powers that be behind the event are pariahs lacking transparency and common decency then inevitably they deal with similar pariahs also lacking transparency and decency.
Russia’s World Cup may well end up being short on the world and deservedly so. Think ahead also to that glorious moment in six years’ time whenQatar’s national team, ranked 84th in the world and who have never been close to qualifying for a World Cup, open the 2022 event in what would seem to be an excruciatingly embarrassing moment for such a grand tournament.
But you reap what you sow and Fifa’s legacy is now inescapable.