World Cup 2018: Russia should be axed as hosts after Malaysia Airlines flight MH17, says Nick Clegg

Deputy Prime Minister calls on Russia to be stripped of the right to host the football tournament

Nick Clegg has joined calls for Russia to face the axe as hosts of the 2018 World Cup as part of tougher sanctions over the shooting down of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 over eastern Ukraine.

The Deputy Prime Minister said it was "unthinkable" in present circumstances that the tournament could be held in the country blamed by the West for supplying arms to the separatist rebels accused of causing the deaths of all 298 on board.

Football's world governing body FIFA this week ruled out calls from some German politicians for Russia to be boycotted, insisting the tournament could be "a force for good".

But Mr Clegg told The Sunday Times that allowing it to go ahead without a change of course by president Vladimir Putin would make the world look "so weak and so insincere" in its condemnation of Moscow's annexation of Crimea and support for the rebels.

The EU has added another 15 individuals and 18 entities to the list of those subject to asset freezes and ambassadors in Brussels are expected to extend the punitive actions to state-owned banks' access to capital markets and to the arms and energy sectors.

Mr Clegg said however that sporting events should also be part of the package of measures - including the cancellation of Russia's first F1 Grand Prix, which is due to take place in Sochi in October.

Deputy PM Nick Clegg Deputy PM Nick Clegg  

Downing Street said Prime Minister David Cameron was focused on securing further economic action from the EU and "does not believe we should reach immediately for boycotts".

But a spokesman added: "It is also not surprising, given Russian behaviour, that people are starting to raise the issue.

"It shows the importance of Russia changing course, before its international standing is damaged even further."

Mr Clegg told the Sunday Times: "Vladimir Putin himself has to understand that he can't have his cake and eat it.

"That's why I've come to the view that if he doesn't change course it's just not on, the idea that Russia will host the World Cup in 2018.

"You can't have this - the beautiful game marred by the ugly aggression of Russia.

"Not only would Vladimir Putin exploit it, I think it would make the rest of the world look so weak and so insincere about our protestations about Vladimir Putin's behaviour if we're not prepared to pull the plug."

 

He said that despite F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone's insistence that there was no case for abandoning the Grand Prix, "the question marks I'm raising will only increase over the next coming weeks and months, over the summer and up to the Grand Prix, about Russia's entitlement to host these major events".

Mr Clegg said the threat of withdrawing the World Cup would be "a very potent political and symbolic sanction".

"If there's one thing that Vladimir Putin cares about, as far as I can see, it's his sense of status.

"Maybe reminding him that you can't retain the same status in the world if you ignore the rest of the world, maybe that will have some effect on his thinking."

He did not rule out the UK as an alternative host given its recent history of putting on successful global sporting events.

"We've got the stadiums, we've got the infrastructure, and we've got the public backing and enthusiasm to host it," he said.

"That's a decision for other people. But I'm not saying this just as a, sort of, British land grab to snatch the World Cup from under Vladimir Putin's nose."

Half of voters polled by YouGov for the Sunday Times supported the idea of stripping Russia of the high-profile football (50%) and motor-racing (51%) events, with only 22% opposed.

The call was also joined by former Football Association chairman Lord Triesman, who said it was "beyond belief" that Mr Putin should be allowed to host the World Cup.

He said: "When you look at the way he milked the Winter Olympics for all it was worth, there's no question he sees it for himself, and for his prestige, as a huge gain.

"The idea that the world should afford Russia that prestige is beyond belief.

"I don't know how many people have to get shot out of the skies before people say enough is enough."

Labour leader Ed Miliband urged EU leaders to meet in person to discuss further sanctions.

"We need action. We need a European Council. The heads of government should be meeting. They shouldn't just be leaving it to the foreign ministers," he told BBC1's Andrew Marr Show.

"We need to raise the sanctions on Russia, on individual corporations that have been part of what happened around the big decisions that have been made."

He said Mr Cameron "does have questions to answer" over whether party donations from Russians were at odds with his position of seeking tough action against Moscow.

"He has got to look really very carefully at who his is getting money from."

Shadow foreign secretary Douglas Alexander said FIFA should be putting contingency plans in place to relocate the tournament.

"If it is confirmed that Russia carries direct responsibly for downing flight MH17, and the Kremlin nonetheless continues to sponsor and fuel the conflict in Ukraine, then FIFA will surely face calls to reconsider if Russia should host the competition in 2018.

"FIFA should therefore be undertaking contingency planning now so that, if required, alternative plans are in place in plenty of time for teams and fans from around the world."

PA

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