The Chaplain for Sport has suggested that individual countries pulling out of the 2018 World Cup may have more effect in tackling Russia’s “war crimes” in Syria rather than stripping the country of hosting duties.
Theresa May has been urged to give the Government’s backing to calls to strip Russia of the 2018 World Cup due its “war crimes” in Syria.
Labour’s John Woodcock, MP for Barrow and Furness, said Russia must lose the right to host the prestigious international football tournament as it continues to assist Syrian president Bashar Assad in attacking civilians.
However, the Prime Minister said decisions over which countries host sporting events are not in the Government’s remit, adding the UK is working with allies to try and stop the “appalling atrocities” in Aleppo.
Chaplain for Sport Mgr Vladimir Felzmann admitted that calls to strip Russia of the honour was an “understandable – even laudable – ‘heart over head’ response to the appalling atrocities in Aleppo”.
However, Mgr Felzmann, who is also CEO for the John Paul II Foundation for Sport, explained that the head asks: “Is the accused guilty of a crime prior to being found guilty by the appropriately authorised judge? Surely, until the verdict, we tend to speak of the ‘alleged criminal’ rather than ‘the criminal’.
“Were Assad – and Russia – taken to the International Criminal Court and found – not at all surprisingly – guilty, a part of the sentence could, indeed, be to strip Russia of this prestigious international football tournament,” he told The Universe. “It would then be up to FIFA to agree to carry out that sentence. Given the financial and thus legal implications of this, probably not.”
Mgr Felzmann also pointed out that FIFA does not have the mandate to adjudicate in political matters. He noted that when it does try to get involved – as seen recently with poppies being displayed on footballer’s armbands – people instinctively recoil from sport being coerced by politicians, wherever they are based.
“The head also asks: ‘Would this ‘sanction’ influence Putin? Would he stop supporting the Assad regime?’ Unlikely,” continued Mgr Felzmann.”
The chaplain suggested that countries – who felt strongly about Russia’s hosting of the World Cup in light of their presence in Syria – could instead “vote with their feet”.
“The FA’s of individual countries – were they to feel passionately about what they witness of TV – could follow their consciences and pull out of the competition,” he said. “Think 1968 and the South Africa tour after Basil D’Oliveira was denied his visa. The England and Wales Cricket Board voted with its feet in response to the apartheid regime’s voting with its visa-ban. It prompted changes in South African sport and eventually in society.”
This weekend’s Premier League fixtures:
Saturday 3rd December
Manchester City v Chelsea – 12:30pm
Crystal Palace v Southampton – 3pm
Stoke City v Burnley – 3pm
Sunderland v Leicester City – 3pm
Tottenham Hotspur v Swansea City – 3pm
West Bromwich Albion v Watford – 3pm
West Ham United v Arsenal – 5:30pm
Sunday 4th December
Bournemouth v Liverpool – 1:30pm
Everton v Manchester United – 4pm
Monday 5th December
Middlesbrough v Hull City – 8pm
Picture: FIFA President Gianni Infantino speaks at the opening ceremony of World Cup Volunteers Programme ahead of the 2018 football tournament as Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, listens, in Moscow, Russia, on Wednesday 1st June 2016. (AP Photo/Ivan Sekretarev). (Ivan Sekretarev/PA).