Should Russia play host to the World Cup in 2018 in light of its recent aggression against its neighbors?
Prominent people on both sides of the Atlantic have begun to raise that question in the wake of Russia’s annexation of Crimea and arming of separatists in eastern Ukraine.
Leaders from Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Christopher Murphy, D-Conn., to Nick Clegg, deputy prime minister of the United Kingdom, to The Heritage Foundation’s Nile Gardiner, an expert on U.S.-European relations, see some clear advantages to at least considering moving the games.
McCain questions whether it is “appropriate to have this venue in Russia at this particular time” and whether there are other countries “that would be far less controversial.”
Clegg told the Sunday Times: “You can’t have this—the beautiful game marred by the ugly aggression of Russia on the Russian-Ukrainian border.”
And Gardiner, director of Heritage’s Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom, said, “Basically this is a moment for both the United States and Great Britain to lead the world in condemnation of Russia’s actions.”
Gardiner called Putin “a typical 1930s-style tyrant who would use the World Cup as a “propaganda device.” And he said losing it would mean much more to the country than an economic and tourism setback.
“The World Cup really matters to the Russians,” Gardiner said. “This is a huge deal for them, and it would begin to focus minds within Russia about the damage Putin’s aggression is inflicting.”
There is little official momentum for this at this point. FIFA, the international organization that governs soccer and runs the World Cup, released a statement reinforcing its commitment to a Russian World Cup and contending sport and politics must remain separate.
President Obama has not commented.