To punish Putin for the MH17 disaster we must boycott Russia 2018

There were already good enough reasons for boycotting the next World Cup before the crash, but now the moral case is stronger than ever

Jack Gilbert
Tuesday 22 July 2014 13:41 BST
lowers, candles and other tributes in front of the Netherlands Embassy in memory of the victims of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17
lowers, candles and other tributes in front of the Netherlands Embassy in memory of the victims of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17

The MH17 plane crash has brought home the horrors of the Ukrainian rebellion. The deaths of 298 innocent civilians (including ten British passengers) have led to heartbreak around the world.

Investigations continue into the exact origins of the ground-to-air missile that brought down the Malaysia Airlines flight, but what seems almost certain is that the blood of those 298 individuals rests on the hands of Vladimir Putin.

What should the West’s reaction be? Economic sanctions on Russia of course. But we should go further than this and attack Putin where it really hurts — his pride.

The UK should boycott the 2018 Russian World Cup for the victims of MH17. We should refuse to send our players to the tournament, and send a clear message to the Kremlin that we do not stand for Russia’s aggressive expansionism.

By sending our players to the 2018 Russian World Cup, we would be validating the Russian state, and handing Putin a powerful propaganda coup.

What message would it send to the MH17 victim's families if we do play in the tournament? What would happen if Ukraine qualifies for the finals and ends up in the same group as Russia – would the match be marked by fighting between pro and anti-Russian Ukrainians?

What would the reaction be if the Netherlands won the tournament? Would Putin tentatively shake the player's hands with the memory that 189 of their compatriots lost their lives because of his involvement in Ukraine?

For these reasons alone, we should take a stand, and refuse to be part of the mockery that is Russia 2018.

But the MH17 crash is not the only cause for a boycott of the tournament — on the domestic front, Russia is asking for it too. Passed last year, Putin's now infamous LGBT propaganda law has made the distribution of information in support of “non-traditional sexual relations” to minors illegal.

The law has sent a clear message to the nation's bigots, giving them a free pass to freely target and discriminate men and women who don't conform to their primitive world view. This has led to vigilante gangs brutally preying on members of the LGBT community, while the police turn a blind eye.

In 2012, a leading fan club for Zenit St Petersburg issued a statement saying they did not want any gay players in their team. Instead of being condemned by the Government as you would expect (imagine if the same had happened in the UK) the law has now validated their vile position.

The fan group also said they didn’t want any black players in their team, which is just one example of the racism that also exists in Russia, particularly among its sporting institutions.

In October 2013, Manchester City’s Yaya Touré complained he was subjected to monkey chants by CSKA Moscow fans during a Champions League match. Countless other players have also had bananas thrown at them.

Incidents such as these have led to black footballers calling for action against racism in Russia, and even threatening a boycott themselves. Touré said in October 2013 that, “If we aren't confident at the World Cup, coming to Russia, we won’t come.”

Despite what some people might say, sports and politics are connected. A boycott of the 2018 Russia World Cup would therefore be a powerful strike against Putin’s regime. It would also finally challenge the lunacy of Sepp Blatter and his governing of Fifa. But most importantly, it would be a just reaction to the 298 innocent civilians killed last Thursday.

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