As an all-round sports fan, I admit I find it hard to get that interested in FIFA’s Confederations Cup at any time. The tournament started back in the 1990s as a way of spreading the ‘love’ – FIFA style, if you get my drift – around the football world. Over the years, it’s developed as a dress rehearsal for the World Cup the year after, as much for the hosts as anyone else.
I am a little more interested in it this year for two reasons. First, as Asian champions, Australia is one of the eight teams taking part along with hosts Russia, plus the other FIFA continental champions: Germany (World Cup 2014), Portugal (Euro 2016), Cameroon, Chile, Mexico and New Zealand.
The second is that it’s Russia.
Reams have been written and spoken about the decision to hand the 2022 World Cup to Qatar. As regular readers will know, I’ve also had quite a lot to say and we also introduced the Hypocrisy World Cup campaign two years ago.
However, Russia has flown under the radar for many. I can’t explain it; maybe it’s because Russia is a big country, it’s got a big world history, it’s got a sporting pedigree, it likes to throw its weight around, and it has one of the toughest of tough men in charge.
But that’s not good enough. I’ve thought about why I feel uneasy about Russia hosting the Confederations Cup, which starts on Saturday, and next year’s World Cup. Here are my 10 reasons why.
- How they won
We know that the FIFA executive committee who made the decision to award the 2018 and 2022 tournaments was largely corrupt. Not every individual, but the majority. So why do we assume Qatar was the only one ‘paying’? How did Russia win the total votes needed in just two rounds? (Qatar took four rounds). Why hasn’t anyone taken a really close look at this? Why did the FIFA ethics committee allow Russia to say “we’ve thrown out our computers and know nothing” when they tried to look at it? How long will the investigation by the Swiss authorities take?
MH17 was a Malaysian Airways passenger jet on its way from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur in July 2014, when it was shot down over eastern Ukraine killing the 298 people on board, including 35 Australians. There is overwhelming evidence via Dutch and US experts to suggest that pro-Russian separatists inside the Ukraine used a Russian-made missile to shoot down the aircraft. It may have been a mistake; it may not. Russia takes no responsibility for it, and vetoed a joint international tribunal to prosecute the individuals responsible through the UN Security Council.
- Workers’ rights
Civil society organisations such as the ITUC and the TUC have protested long and hard about Qatar and its shocking abuses of human rights and workers’ rights. Hardly anyone has mentioned Russia. While it’s not on the same scale – as far as we know – a recent exposé by the excellent Norwegian football magazine, Josimar, detailed evidence of ‘slave labour’ conditions involving North Korean workers in St Petersburg – the home of Russia’s ruling elite. This has been reinforced with a report released this week by Human Rights Watch on the exploitation of workers involved in construction of World Cup (and Confederations Cup) sites. FIFA, in its inimitable way, acknowledged that this had occurred, they’re now monitoring it and they’ll stay across it. Don’t they realise that their human rights committee ‘monitoring’ the situation is not really cutting-it? Of course, Russia denied it with a foreign ministry spokeswoman borrowing a phrase from Donald Trump, saying it was ‘fake news’.
- Hooligan element
Remember last year’s Euro 2016 tournament in France? What I loved as much as anything was the fairytale of the Iceland team and their wondrous fans, who represented about 50% of their population. What I hated was the vile and ugly scenes in Marseille when groups of Russian fans set upon English fans for no particular reason. 100 English fans were injured; two in a coma. It was so bad that UEFA threatened to throw them out of the tournament. One year later, the FIFA President Gianni Infantino says it’s all under control and there’s nothing to worry about. He has “confidence in the Russian authorities”.
- Democracy? Really?
The Russian authorities in whom the FIFA President has confidence are the same ones who arrested the opposition leader, Alexei Navalny, as he left his home to attend a political protest. Within hours he was sentenced to 30 days jail. Long enough to be out of the way while the Confederations Cup is on. We all have our own political views, and we may not like who’s in charge, or the opposition, or anyone in-between; but in a democracy, you don’t throw your opponent in jail simply because they’re your opponent. Vladimir Putin can ponce-around all he likes and pretend he’s President of a healthy multi-party democracy, but we all know it’s not true. Have a read of the 2015 Human Rights Watch report on how Russia deals with its critics. If you’re in doubt, HRW staff were detained and questioned in Volvograd recently as they tried to speak with construction workers.
- No drugs here, we’re Russian
I’ve written about this previously. Since the McLaren Report was brought down, the guy in charge, Vitaly Mutko the Sports Minister, is no longer in the role. For many, that might sound like ‘gardening leave’. In Russia, it means a promotion! Yep, Mutko is now the deputy prime minister. He is still president of the Russian football association and chairman of the organising committee for the Confederations Cup and World Cup. (By the way, he was also Sports Minister when Russia won the 2018 bid and was a FIFA executive committee voter!) Russia tends to see the McLaren Report as part of a western plot against their country and has taken no real steps to address the systemic issues identified by Professor McLaren.
- LGBTI rights
This is a cause very dear to my heart, and I have also written about this previously. Four years ago, Russia introduced a law that vilified LGBTI people and prohibited publication of information that equated a gay relationship as equivalent to a heterosexual one, especially in publications accessible to children. I’m sorry to say that, despite the ‘people power’ protests at the Sochi winter Olympics in 2014, nothing much has changed. Only last month we heard of horrific ‘official’ violence against gay men in Chechnya, including the death of four men. This was exacerbated by the detention of activists in Moscow who were attempting to deliver another ‘people power’ petition in support of LGBTI people from Chechnya at a May Day parade.
Two years ago, former Russian footballer Alexei Smertin, famously declared that “racism does not exist in Russia.” Tell that to someone like Yaya Toure who was called a ‘monkey’ when Manchester City travelled to Moscow for a Champions League game. Ask Brazilian striker Hulk, about the bananas thrown at him and the monkey chants when playing in the Russian league in “almost every game”. He claims he was even racially abused by a referee! Two weeks ago, locals paraded through Sochi – one of the host cities for the Confederations Cup – with painted blackfaces and carrying bananas to denote Cameroon, one of the teams who will be playing there. And as for Alexei Smertin whom I quoted? He’s the official ‘anti-racism inspector’ for the 2018 World Cup. You couldn’t make it up!
- Show us the Roubles!
Who knows how much this is costing? It’s unlikely we’ll ever get the full picture. A report earlier this year put the cost at around USD$11.1 billion. No, not a typo. Billion. Sochi 2014 was reported to have cost a eye-watering $51 billion. I’m no expert on such matters. I totally appreciate there is a ‘feel good’ factor to having these mega-events in a city or country. But there are also so many studies on the cost as opposed to the benefit of mega-events, the long-term lack of value to the local communities and people, and the extent to which the economic impact is usually overblown. Not just in Russia, but everywhere. While the Russian economy is pretty much stagnant, locals must be wondering if all this expenditure is the best use of their roubles? (Of course, they couldn’t actually ask the question, as they’d probably be thrown in jail!)
- Vanity, vanity
Russia and its President Vladimir Putin are in the news every single day. Hosting an event such as the Confederations Cup (to a lesser extent) and the World Cup (to a greater extent) is another way of the country having an impact and influence over the world for the duration of the event. This can be a positive thing – after all, it’s why governments get behind events of this kind – but, unless there is a significant improvement and turnaround in many of the issues I’ve mentioned, that’s not going to be the case here. For a character like Vladimir Putin, hosting one of the world’s big events, is a vanity project.
There’s no alternative, of course.
We’re all bound to be watching the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Alexis Sanchez, Arturo Vidal, Julian Draxler and others – if not for the full 90 minutes of every game, at least in passing. All countries are also well-and-truly on the ‘road to Russia’ for 2018.
But these 10 reasons (and there are more) give an idea of just how f*^%ed the decision-making was by those 22 men back on 2 December 2010.
In the meantime, #GoSocceroos!