Two weeks after pro-Russia separatists apparently shot down Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 as it flew over Ukraine, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) is calling on FIFA to move the 2018 World Cup out of Russia as a way to exert leverage on Vladimir Putin.
McCain told the ESPN/ABC podcast “Capital Games” Wednesday that the U.S. should not act unilaterally but that there should be calls to move the tournament to a less controversial country.
“It absolutely should be reconsidered, but I would hasten to add that a unilateral decision by the United States would not bode well,” McCain said. “I’d like to see the United States and others — say, the British perhaps and other countries — raise the issue in ordinary meetings, periodic meetings that they have. Say, ‘We need to discuss this issue. Is it appropriate to have this venue in Russia at this particular time, and aren’t there other countries that would be far less controversial?’”
Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) made similar calls on the same podcast.
“If in the face of a downed airliner, in the face of crippling sanctions from the European Union, Putin thumbs his nose at the international community and continues to send in arms and personnel into eastern Ukraine, then I’m not sure how you reward this guy and his government with a major, international competition,” Murphy said.
British Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg also said this week that it was “unthinkable” that Russia should get to host the 2018 World Cup. Petitions have popped up online urging FIFA to move the tournament as well.
Russia was the focus of major international criticism around its 2014 Winter Olympics thanks to human rights abuses and new anti-gay laws, but it has largely avoided World Cup criticism until now thanks to the problems around Brazil’s 2014 tournament and Qatar’s 2022 hosting duties (FIFA has also faced calls from British and American political leaders to move that World Cup thanks to corruption and labor abuses).
For all the recent attention, though, there is virtually no chance FIFA is going to listen. FIFA has never relocated a World Cup after it awarded hosting duties, and it last week rejected the idea of moving either of the next two World Cups. And while FIFA says its events can be a “force for good” in host countries, the organization itself has generally remained silent on human rights abuses and other problems, leaving it to activists and the international community to attempt to address the myriad problems its signature tournament both exacerbates and ignores.