Russia, FIFA and the Power of Sport
WARSAW: Most football fans around the globe impatiently count down minutes to the beginning of the World Cup. With Russia as the tournament’s host, politics may share the spotlight with soccer more than usual. During the past four years Moscow has contributed to shaking the foundations of the global international order and skillfully utilized sport as a tool.
Russia, in its constant search for international legitimization, sees mega sports events as a way to prove the world it is a guardian of universal norms. Both the International Olympics Committee and the Fédération Internationale de Football Association are officially flagbearers for the values of tolerance, peace, diversity and human rights.
For governments, sporting events are the opportunity to project a positive image of the country. Even the Vatican state set up a sports department in 2004 to open new frontiers for evangelization. In recent years, the Kremlin has organized an impressive series of sporting events from the 2013 Universiade in Kazan to the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics to the 2016 Ice Hockey World Championship. The FIFA World Cup, with 11 host cities in Russia, is next in line. Yet by invading Ukraine in 2014 and intervening in the Middle East on Syria’s behalf, Moscow could not be farther away from the high-minded principles of international sporting organizations.