By Arthur L. Caplan & Lee H. Igel
The 2018 FIFA World Cup is scheduled to be held in Russia this summer. Major sponsors include Adidas, Visa, Coca-Cola, Kia, Budweiser, Qatar Airways, McDonald’s, and Vivo. Many of the world’s media giants will be there, as well. But this event, the biggest on the sports calendar, ought to be boycotted, moved, or cancelled. There is moral farce in letting Russia play host while engaged in actions and policies that are far from the international goodwill and harmony FIFA says the World Cup promotes.
Sergei Skripal, a former spy, and his daughter, Yulia, were found slumped on a shopping center bench after becoming victims of a targeted poisoning last week in Salisbury, England. The lives of a local policeman and about 500 people who were nearby may also be seriously affected. A lot of fingers, including those belonging to Prime Minister Theresa May, are being pointed at the Russian government as having a key role in the incident. Russian officials say the government is not behind the attack and that they want access to samples of the nerve agent that was used. This would not be the first time that Russia has used these means to square old scores.
England, Australia, Poland, and Japan are reported to be among the countries that could be in on a boycott as part of “co-ordinated retaliation” if it is proven that Russian operators were behind the poisoning in the UK. That is, the national governments would press their respective football associations to withdraw teams from participation in the World Cup. Officials from other nations, including Germany, the reigning World Cup champion, are said to be thinking-through the same option.
Bild, the widely-read German daily, sent reporters to ask World Cup team members, including coach Joachim Low and players Thomas Müller and Joshua Kimmich, about what is in their conscience when it comes to participating in the upcoming tournament. For context, the reporters showed photos of victims of a recent airstrike involving Russian fighter jets that devastated Ghouta, Syria, and led to the deaths of more than 1,000 people on the ground. They also mentioned abuses ranging from Russian military intervention in Eastern Ukraine to findings of systematic doping by Russian athletes across many sports. A few days later, Russian leadership offered suggestions that attempts to tip the American Presidential election to Donald Trump could have been conducted by “ethnic” elements.
The German players are not ready to boycott, though they agreed the behavior of the Russian government puts them in a “difficult position.” They kicked the ball back to politicians, urging them to make some decisions about an appropriate response.
Julian Reichelt, editor-in-chief of Bild, is pushing a boycott. He is also calling on German firms, such as Mercedes-Benz and Adidas, which he pointed out “directly helped the Nazi war effort,” to reconsider their sponsorships of the World Cup and take up “a historic responsibility to send the right message to Russia.”