Jul 29, 2014

    Sport and politics never mix well

    AS THE international community grapples with how to deal with Moscow in the wake of the Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 tragedy, it looks increasingly likely that the European Union (EU) will slap Russia with new and harsher economic sanctions soon.

    But how much of an impact this will have is debatable, given Europe's heavy dependence on Russia, both as a major trading market and a key energy source.

    There has been growing pressure from top EU officials, specifically from Germany and Britain, to punish Russia where it would hurt more, by stripping the country of its right to host the next World Cup in four years' time.

    Football's world governing body Fifa said on Friday that it remained committed to Russia's organisation of the 2018 tournament, arguing that a boycott would not be an effective way of reducing tensions in the region.

    That did not stop British Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg from declaring that it was "unthinkable" for Russia to still be able to host the World Cup if President Vladimir Putin was "not prepared to play by the basic rules of world affairs".

    Mr Clegg went so far as to suggest that the EU's enhanced package of sanctions against Russia should include sporting events, such as its inaugural Formula One race in October.

    It is worth noting that calls for a boycott are customary whenever Russia hosts a major international sporting event. Earlier this year, its policies against homosexuality received widespread attention up to and during the Winter Olympics in Sochi. It was also the case when Moscow hosted the 1980 Olympics, which saw no fewer than 64 countries withdraw as a protest against the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

    The World Cup is still four years away and there is plenty of time for Mr Putin to repair Russia's battered global image.

    As things stand, Russia is going ahead with plans to spend in excess of US$20 billion (S$25 billion) to build new stadiums and other infrastructure for the World Cup - nearly double the US$11 billion that Brazil spent to host this year's tournament.

    However, it must be said that football or any other sport cannot and should not be seen as a solution for all issues, particularly international political issues. History has shown that sport and politics do not mix well; they never have, and never will.