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Opinion

Opinion: Call for World Cup boycott a nod to populism

German politicians are questioning Russia's suitability to hold the 2018 FIFA World Cup. Some argue the country should be stripped of the tournament, but the chance of this happening is slim, writes Sabine Faber.

It's hot in Germany, and many Germans are suffering through temperatures seldom reached in this part of Europe. Summer is in full swing. The members of the Bundestag are on vacation.

In the media, this period is often referred to as the slow news season. It's a time when politicians have a decent chance of getting coverage with silly issues or weak demands. A perfect example of this is the recent call for FIFA to strip Russia of the right to host the World Cup in 2018 - in view of the Ukraine crisis and the lack of cooperation in investigating the MH17 plane crash.

Damaged reputation

Sabine Faber. (Photo: DW)

DW editor Sabine Faber

Honestly, I don't see Russia quaking in its boots just yet. The World Cup is scheduled to take place there in four years' time. Thus far hardly any football stadiums have been built - in many cities, much like in Brazil, it's uncertain whether these structures will even serve any future purpose beyond the tournament - so not much money would have been burned.

Additionally, the enthusiasm for football in Russia isn't nearly as great as the love of ice hockey, for example, and other winter sports. President Vladimir Putin already had enough of a chance to spruce up his image during the Winter Olympics in Sochi. But, as a Russian expert recently told me, the prospect of World Cup fans from around the world - including homosexuals and blacks - coming into the country, is causing more unease than joy among certain sections of the population. They currently see themselves as being surrounded by enemies, an idea largely fuelled by Russian propaganda. This outlook may be mangeable in the country itself, but on an international stage Russia's reputation would surely take a hit.

Lessons from history

The odds that calls from German politicians will succeed are slim anyway. The international football governing body FIFA has never revoked an award to host the World Cup, although there have always been and still are discussions. For example, ahead of the 1978 World Cup in Argentina, where a military dictatorship took power in a coup two years prior to the tournament. Or the current controversy surrounding human rights violations on stadium construction sites in Qatar. Again, it seems unlikely FIFA will strip the country of the World Cup in 2022.

A telling sign

There have, however, been boycotts carried out by national football and sports associations. For example, 64 nations, including the United States and Germany, stayed away from the 1980 Olympic Games in protest of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Apart from the symbolism of the gesture, the move made no lasting impression on the Russian government. Would such an act still have an impact in four years time anyway? The world order may well have changed again - and what then?

The discussion about imposing economic sanctions against Russia is justified and important - they would actually have a damaging and sustained impact on Moscow. But the debate about the World Cup is unnecessary. It's a classic slow news season issue that serves the sole purpose of drawing attention to the politicians.

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