Some opportunist U.S. politicians have been whipping up Cold War-type hysteria since Russia invaded Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula. Comparing Vladimir Putin‘s actions in Ukraine to Nazi leader Adolf Hitler‘s imperial ambitions before World War II only escalates an already tense situation when what is called for is diplomacy and economic sanctions in order to clear the path of a sustainable solution for Russia, Ukraine and all parties involved.
But that is exactly the type of unnecessary provocations that Republican Senator Dan Coates of Indiana and his GOP colleague Senator Mark Kirk of Illinois are stirring up with their letter they sent to FIFA President Joseph “Sepp” Blatter on Friday requesting that soccer’s international governing body ban Russia from this summer’s World Cup in Brazil and strip the country of its right to host the 2018 World Cup.
The letter states that “in light of Russia’s military occupation of a sovereign Ukraine, we respectfully ask that you urgently convene an emergency session of FIFA to consider suspending Russia’s membership in FIFA, stripping Russia of the right to host the 2018 World Cup, and denying the Russian National Team the right to participate in the upcoming 2014 World Cup in Brazil.”
The senators reference FIFA’s denial of the former Yugoslavia to participate in the 1992 European Championship and the 1994 World Cup, citing Article 3 of the FIFA Statutes that reads: “[d]iscrimination of any kind against a country, private person or group of people on account of ethnic origin, gender, language, religion, politics or any other reason is strictly prohibited and punishable by suspension or expulsion.”
While no one is denying the concern that Kirk, Coates and other U.S. politicians have regarding the tragic situation for the Ukrainian people, sports more than anything else should transcend the politics and conflicts of the moment. Imagine how Americans would feel if the USA was banned from international sporting competitions at the height of George W. Bush‘s invasion of Iraq — a war that many considered an illegal act against a sovereign nation. Think about the uproar in the United States if the IOC banned American athletes from participating in the Olympic Games or FIFA kicked U.S. soccer out of the World Cup?
It is also worth considering that banning Russia from the 2014 World Cup and stripping its right to host the 2018 World Cup will only further isolate the country and embolden Putin to take even more aggressive action against Russia’s neighbors. Perhaps, like the Sochi Olympics, it is best to engage with countries like Russia on the world stage to help create the conditions for positive change and it doesn’t get bigger than the World Cup.