While the finger-pointing over Flight MH17 continues, a lot of ancillary questions and answers have sprung up from different quarters about apportioning blame and making it stick. The past week has been nothing short of a media goldmine as certain European governments have been marching around with torches and pitch forks in a bid to coerce Vladimir Putin to accept responsibility for the mishap. Unsurprisingly, the Dutch are mulling boycotting the 2018 world cup (which will be hosted by Russia). Even German Chancellor Angela Merkel seemed to join the growing calls for boycott when she broached the topic (but was careful not to say anything definitive or inflammatory) only questioning Russia’s ability to host the world cup due to “security challenges”.
Looking at the manifest of the ill-fated flight, it is undeniable that the Dutch suffered the most loss (in terms of numbers of lives lost) and understandable that the Dutch (Politicians) people will be in the need of a scape goat to own up to this fubar. But the reality of the situation is a bitter pill to swallow – no one will ever own up to this mistake, instead all the Dutch people will get is public posturing and a deluge of condolences. One of which is this idea of boycotting the 2018 world cup.
The calls for a boycott surrounds the Dutch football association (KNVB) who are under pressure to come up with a stance on the upcoming world cup. For the readers who are not aware of FIFA and its structure, the world soccer governing body (FIFA) is made up of 209 member associations all of which are various football associations of countries that play soccer as a professional sport. A couple of questions: If KNVB decides to boycott the next world cup, will other associations follow suit?, and if we have a couple of soccer power Nations like say…England, or Brazil opt out, would this force FIFA to move the world cup from Russia (which is what a couple of western governments have always wanted)?. Only time will tell.
There are many challenges associated with threatening Vladimir Putin with a sporting event boycott – remember the recently concluded Sochi Winter Olympics? A lot of Western governments huffed and puffed about boycotting (concerning gay rights, dogs and the early stages of the Ukrainian crises) the event, but in the end, they all sent their delegates and the games went on without a hitch. As a matter of fact Vladimir emerged as the winner politically because he showed he could handle a major engagement and still influence events in Ukraine – hence his immense popularity locally. Besides, no one would want to penalize their Athletes because of a political matter especially when it’s an event with a cult status like the world cup which is hosted once every four years.
Also, FIFA is involved. Never in its history has the world cup been relocated to a different country after being awarded (only cancelled during Wars) considering the amount of back room deals between itself, sponsors and the host countries. FIFA and by extension, its member associations parade themselves as being apolitical and will not allow itself to be used as a political tool. In addition, FIFA is mindful of setting a precedence – If they move the hosting rights to a different country (or have one of its member association boycott an event) due to political events, it would go against everything that FIFA preaches about – immunity from political and government interference.
Finally, the issue of money. The world cup is big business and most host countries are awarded their rights years in advance. This is to encourage an early ramp up period to include private equity partnership and long-term policy decisions. Take a look at Qatar that is hosting the 2022 world cup; It has already begun development of a couple of its venues and amenities to cater for the tournament (obviously with the help of its deep sovereign wealth funds). Imagine the impact of pulling the rug out under their feet, the repercussions (litigation wise) would be something that FIFA and its financial backers are not willing to take on.
Emotions are high and using the 2018 World cup to get back at Vladimir Putin, will achieve nothing more than local political gains in the Netherlands, the far-right in western governments and sets a dangerous precedence.