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Aleksander Vysotsky

Department of International Relations and Foreign Policy of Russia, MGIMO-University

Ruslan Volkov

Employee at the Embassy of the Russian Federation in Cairo, Central Staff of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation in the 2000s, currently works in the oil and gas industry

The FIFA scandal demonstrates the determination of certain Western countries to exert pressure on the organization, with the end goal being the cancellation of Russia 2018 and Qatar 2022 World Cups, or at the very least to seriously complicate the matter.

The FIFA scandal demonstrates the determination of certain Western countries to exert pressure on the organization, with the end goal being the cancellation of Russia 2018 and Qatar 2022 World Cups, or at the very least to seriously complicate the matter.

The corruption scandal has been brewing in FIFA for a long time now. The organizers of football’s most prestigious events are accused of taking backhanders every time the host nations for upcoming tournaments are announced. However, being an independent non-governmental organization, FIFA has the right to decide who will host championships without recourse to public opinion.

The current attack on FIFA is unprecedented and will have far-reaching consequences. The ammunition for the onslaught was provided in early May by the German TV channel ARD when it aired the documentary “Der verkaufte Fußball”. The Brazilian press reported that, on the eve of the FIFA presidential elections, representatives of Western football federations launched a massive campaign in support of Sepp Blatter’s rival, Prince Ali bin Hussein of Jordan.

Such a tactic, clearly timed to coincide with the FIFA presidential elections, was designed to achieve a number of goals. The main thrust was to prevent the current president from being re-elected. In this respect, the campaign was a success, as Blatter resigned his post just four days after winning the vote with a significant margin. He was obviously under great external pressure to do so.

Speaking at the FIFA Congress in Zurich, Blatter expressly stated that the current discontent with the organization was to do with the 2010 decision to award the 2018 and 2022 World Cups to Russia and Qatar, respectively. It is true that if Russia, isolated by the United States and its allies as a result of the events in Crimea and Ukraine, were to successfully host the tournament – a much more prestigious event than the Winter Olympics and one with a far greater audience – the attempts of the West to show global solidarity would be dealt a crushing blow.

It should be noted that the most recent World Cups were held in South Africa and Brazil, that is, in BRICS countries. In doing so, FIFA – wittingly or otherwise – gradually moved away from its Western priorities, although it had always been considered a predominantly European organization.

A Breakdown of the West’s Attack on FIFA

Sepp Blatter’s FIFA career

It is worth noting that the best way to disrupt the 2018 World Cup – for those who desired to do so – would have been by an institutional decision of FIFA itself. It is considered bad form to boycott sporting events these days. But it is another matter entirely if the organization itself reneges on decisions it has already made. This possibility cannot be ruled out, as the resignation of Sepp Blatter and the shakeup at the top of FIFA virtually paved the way for such a decision. Right now, almost all of FIFA’s top officials are facing criminal proceedings, and the price for them to be dropped is unclear. It is hard to imagine that such a situation would have been implemented under the current president. Another method – another move against “institutionalization”, rather than subjective failures of the organization – would have been to boycott all FIFA tournaments while the organization is still headed by Sepp Blatter, that is, until 2019. With his resignation this is no longer possible, which makes the first scenario all the more likely. Nevertheless, it is worth noting that a UEFA boycott of FIFA was definitely on the table, and may have been carried out had Blatter stayed in office. The main architects of the plan to boycott were the English, who, as we know, have not given up hopes of hosting the 2018 World Cup themselves. The initial failure of the anti-Blatter blitzkrieg forced the West to unleash a “nuclear” weapon of sorts, that is, UEFA threatened to break away from FIFA and hold its own World Cup with teams from Europe, as well as Brazil and Argentina.

The British Press has already gone into detail about what such a tournament would look like. To be sure, in terms of entertainment value and fan interest, an alternative World Cup could pose a threat to the traditional tournament, to which the numerous African and Asian countries undoubtedly add flavour at the expense of quality. The dominance of the West in such a format would allow it to dictate the rules of the game when it comes to deciding which countries can compete, while the “ill-fated” 2018 World Cup would be significantly devalued, in the same way that the 1980 Moscow Olympics were.

Interestingly, the threat of boycotting FIFA is a creative reworking of the scenario under which UEFA was held to ransom for years by the richest clubs in Europe threatening to create their own Champions League. Such a competition would have seen these clubs playing against each other in a tournament worked to reap the maximum commercial benefit, with profits being divided among the participating teams and thus bypassing UEFA. This threat was partly a response to the “financial fair play” initiative that would hit the top clubs the hardest, as well wealthy ambitious clubs and their sponsors.

In any case, had UEFA withdrawn from FIFA, it would have been an unprecedented event. And nobody would have been able to predict the consequences. Considering the number of actors involved, including in purely economic terms, it would have been met with enormous opposition. This is why a “shake-up” of FIFA and a turnaround with regard to the decision to host the 2018 World Cup in Russia are far more likely.

Partners on the Wings

The battle is not over, however. In the current situation, Russia is interested in maintaining the status quo and, as a result, has found a number of unexpected allies. And the most important of these allies could turn out to be Qatar. The decision to hold the 2022 World Cup in that country has attracted perhaps more criticism in the West than the unpopular decision to have Russia host the 2018 edition. Detractors point in particular to the terrible working conditions for migrants in the country and call to memory the numerous tragic incidents during construction of the stadiums in preparation for the tournament. Attention has also been drawn to the need to switch the 2022 World Cup to the milder winter period, which will wreak havoc with domestic league calendars, as well as the Champions League and UEFA Cup, the television rights to which form a major part of the clubs’ budgets. The covert struggle against UEFA in collaboration with Qatar, one of Russia’s main detractors in the Middle East, could turn out to be one of the most interesting and unexpected developments in global politics.

The BRICS group may also have a say in the matter. Let us not forget that the BRICS group includes the great footballing nation of Brazil, which has already held its World Cup and may therefore side with Russia on the matter. And a World Cup without Russia is as much of a failure as one can expect.

The 2018 World Cup is not far off. A significant amount of money and thousands of man-hours have already been spent on it. The first official event of the championship – the qualifying draw – is set to take place at Constantine Palace in St. Petersburg on July 25, 2015. We can only assume that the current intensity of emotions surrounding the event will subside by 2018.

The ends justify the means. If the Russia’s World Cup actually goes ahead, then it will cast a huge shadow of doubt over the effectiveness of the West’s policy to isolate Moscow. In any case, that is how it will look. At the same time, Blatter’s resignation dramatically increases the chances of his opponents.

The aggressiveness demonstrated towards FIFA by the U.S. authorities, which are prepared to use the FBI’s resources overseas (and this bypass Interpol), speaks to the desire of the United States to uphold its image as “the man of the house”, no matter the cost, including “punishing” dissenters and serving up a lesson for everyone else in the future.

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Poll conducted

  1. In your opinion, what are the US long-term goals for Russia?
    U.S. wants to establish partnership relations with Russia on condition that it meets the U.S. requirements  
     33 (31%)
    U.S. wants to deter Russia’s military and political activity  
     30 (28%)
    U.S. wants to dissolve Russia  
     24 (22%)
    U.S. wants to establish alliance relations with Russia under the US conditions to rival China  
     21 (19%)
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