Russia must be so grateful for Qatar. For years, the toothless gnashing over Qatar’s hosting the 2022 World Cup stole the oxygen from most controversy surrounding Russia’s winning 2018 bid. It’s understandable, really. Qatar’s bid was corrupt, while the country features rampant homophobia and stadiums built by Nepalese slave labor (hey, at least they’ve denied supporting terrorism).
Russia’s bid, on the other hand, was only very likely corrupt. They would never use Nepalese slave labor (preferring North Koreans work in “slave-like conditions” instead). And you would never hear any homophobia at a soccer match in Russia, because it would be drowned out by monkey chants aimed at black players (but also there might be some light anti-gay activity, like purges).
No country has seriously threatened to boycott either World Cup. Some national soccer associations have meekly suggested that FIFA strip hosting rights, something FIFA will likely never do.
But it seems like Russia overplayed their hand by poisoning a former spy in England. Following the March 4 attack on Sergei Skripal and his daughter, several leaders from countries participating in the 2018 World Cup finally decided to punish Russia by … not sending government officials to the World Cup. Vladimir Putin will surely rue his country’s actions once he’s deprived of shaking hands with Prince William and Polish President Andrzej Duda.
These countries could stomach a World Cup in Russia with its racism, homophobia, stadiums built by North Korean slave labor, systemic doping touching almost every major Russian sport, even the annexation of Crimea. Yet Russia poisons someone on foreign soil and the world’s response is a political travel boycott. Do they not realize a World Cup boycott would do far more damage to Russia (and more importantly Putin) than any sanctions or diplomat expulsions?
It’s even more comical when you consider that the USA-Canada-Mexico joint bid for the 2026 World Cup is in jeopardy because of Donald Trump’s travel ban and his “sh-thole countries” comments. Russia poisons and invades; Qatar outlaws homosexuality. But an intemperate description of Haiti is disqualifying. Adding to the absurdity, rival 2026 bidder Morocco has highlighted its “very low gun circulation” and “exceptionally low murder rate” as contrasts to the United States. Remember, the last World Cup was held in Brazil, the Portuguese word for “murder.”
So this is where we are: the sporting response to Russia’s (deep inhale) racism, homophobia, questionable World Cup bid, questionable stadium construction, doping, foreign policy, and attacking people on foreign soil is to … not send government officials to the World Cup.
It’s like the IOC, the NCAA, and the old NFL catch rule formed a committee to decide the best way to punish Russia and then sent Hans Blix to deliver the message to Putin.