Like the Sochi Winter Games, the immediate aftermath of the 2018 World Cup is likely to be favorable toward Russia. But, like the doping controversy that resulted in the barring of Russian athletes from several major sports competitions after Sochi, time will tell whether Russia’s hosting of soccer’s global extravaganza will be deemed a success.
For many, Russia remains a bastion for intolerance, destabilizing activities, and geopolitik gamesmanship. Let’s remember how Russia came to host the World Cup, and what that may tell us about whether Russia has been a benevolent promoter of goodwill through sport, or whether it is using sport to advance propaganda.
The international governing body of soccer, FIFA, prior to its selection in 2010, received multiple hosting bids for 2018 and 2022. Critical analysis, investigative journalism and soccer pundits asserted in 2010 that the leading contenders for selection were: England 2018 and USA 2022. And while England was widely believed to be the leading candidate for 2018, they were up against a strong joint bid from Spain and Portugal. For 2022, most observers believed that the US was virtually a shoe in. On December 2, 2010, Russia won the 2018 event on two rounds of FIFA voting, and Qatar won for 2022 on the fourth round of voting. England only received two votes in round 1, knocking it out of contention.
Years of allegations of vote buying and corruption followed the 2010 vote. In particular, that Qatar won was viewed with incredulity by most observers and insiders. Then, in 2015, the US Department of Justice indicted eighteen individuals with financial misdeeds, racketeering and other charges associated with FIFA. The facts and charges included misdeeds associated with the 2010 selection process. FIFA’s President, Sepp Blatter, was effectively forced to resign in 2016. In short, FIFA was revealed to be widely corrupt and the legitimacy of the 2010 selection process was greatly sullied. Interestingly, Christopher Steele, now widely known for his Dossier associated with the Candidate Trump during the 2016 US presidential election, was a source of intelligence and evidence used by the US prosecutors.
Given this sullied history leading up to Russia’s hosting of the World Cup, it certainly adds context to why Vladimir Putin was so interested in hosting. For many Russia analysts, hosting the event can be seen as part of a long-term, strategic plan to promote Russian prominence coupled with denigrating the West. Hence, the World Cup serves Putin’s propaganda interests.
The poignant image of dollars thrown at Sepp Blatter (shown above) leaves one wondering if a more suitable image would have been Russian Rubles thrown at him…