An Ugly Stain on the Beautiful Game

By Mirza Hadzic

This summer, Russia is hosting the FIFA World Cup, and some are already predicting it to be a disaster.  In 2010, the Fédération Internationale de Football Association(“FIFA”) selected Russia to host the 2018 World Cup.  Since FIFA’s controversial selection, there has been an intense public discussion about moving the tournament to another country. Critics have cited racism, doping, and a wide array of other political reasons Russia should have been stripped from hosting the tournament.  Nonetheless, FIFA declined all requests for the tournament to be moved and the World Cup is still scheduled to take place in Russia from June 14 to July 15.

FIFA is the international governing body of soccer and is responsible for organizing the World Cup tournament.  FIFA was founded in 1904 and is comprised of 211 national associations, each representing a nation.  Since 1930, FIFA has organized the World Cup every four years in a host country.  The World Cup is the most prestigious international soccer competition and the most viewed sporting event in the world.  All 211 nations go through a qualifications phase over the two years leading up to the World Cup and only 32 make it to the final tournament. Countries bid to host the World Cup, with Russia winning the bid to host in 2018.

There have been over a hundred reported incidents of racism in Russian football over the last two years and the Russian authorities have still not taken the issue seriously.  Russian soccer fans have become infamous for making racial chants and bringing Nazi memorabilia to games.  Black players specifically have been subjected to monkey chants and having bananas thrown at them.  Unfortunately, the Russian authorities have not been taking this issue very seriously because they believe that, despite the track record, too much is being made of racism in Russia.  Several black players have called for the boycott of the World Cup unless Russia tackles racism more seriously.

Doping scandals embroiling Russian sports have led to anger and distrust between Russia and the rest of international sporting community.  In 2015, Russia’s athletics were caught in a large state sponsored doping scandal.  Some of the same key Russian figures involved in that scandal were also in charge of organizing the World Cup in Russia.  FIFA, however, has been stalling the doping inquiries.  FIFA went as far as to fire the doctor, a distinguished twenty-two year employee, in charge of investigating Russia’s soccer doping. Russia will be playing with a cloud of suspicion over their heads.

World Cup ticket sales have taken a hit as well.  FIFA revealed last month that ticket sales are down by more than half a million at this stage compared to the last World Cup in Brazil.  Fans from United States and Western Europe are weary of travelling to Russia, especially due to Russia’s military conflict in Ukraine and the recent poisoning of Sergei and Yulia Skripal.  Ticket purchases from the United States are ninth overall, compared to being first for the previous World Cup.  Germany, the reigning champion, is the only European country in the top ten of ticket purchasers.

The complete list of issues with Russia hosting the World Cup is too long.  What is supposed to be an event known for bringing together people representing various cultures from all over the world, has become one of the most divisive events ever.  By FIFA not addressing these issues, it is looking like a disaster waiting to happen.

References

BBC – ‘Too much made of racism in Russia’, says former football head – March 19, 2015, available at https://www.bbc.com/sport/football/31968082

FIFA – http://www.fifa.com/

NBC Sports – Decline in requests for World Cup tickets from the USA – January 31, 2018, available athttp://soccer.nbcsports.com/2018/01/31/decline-in-requests-for-world-cup-tickets-from-the-usa/

NY Times – Critics Say FIFA Is Stalling a Doping Inquiry as World Cup Nears – January 3, 2018, available athttps://www.nytimes.com/2018/01/03/sports/worldcup/world-cup-russia-doping.html

Sky Sports – World Cup ticket sales struggle in Europe with England fans outside top 10 – March 4, 2018, available athttp://www.skysports.com/football/news/12098/11315402/world-cup-ticket-sales-struggle-in-europe-with-england-fans-outside-top-10

The Guardian – Russia 2018: issues facing organisers of first World Cup staged in eastern Europe – July 12, 2016, available at https://www.theguardian.com/football/2016/jul/12/russia-2018-issues-facing-organisers-world-cup

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