Thirteen members of the U.S. Senate, led by Republican Ron Johnson of Wisconsin and Democrat Bob Menendez of New Jersey, are urging soccer's world governing body, FIFA, to reconsider its decision to hold the 2018 World Cup in Russia. Allowing the tournament to be played there, the senators said, "inappropriately bolsters the prestige of the Putin regime at a time when it should be condemned" for its invasion of neighboring Ukraine.
The senators' concerns were detailed in a letter addressed to FIFA President Sepp Blatter, which called on the organization to pull the event out of Russia or at least allow FIFA's member nations to vote on the issue.
As you know, nearly a full year has passed since unmarked Russian troops and Russian-backed separatists began their dismemberment of Ukraine. Since then, more than 40 countries, all FIFA members, have implemented sanctions on Russia in an effort to end the conflict. It is unacceptable that while nearly half of the 2014 World Cup participants have joined the international sanctions regime to counter Russian aggression, FIFA would not even consider allowing its members to vote on moving the 2018 competition to a country that respects the shared principles of FIFA and international law.
In addition to Johnson and Menendez, the letter bears the signatures of Democrats Dick Durbin, Claire McCaskill, and Jeanne Shaheen and Republicans John Cornyn, Lindsey Graham, Mark Kirk, John McCain, David Perdue, Marco Rubio, Jim Risch, and Pat Toomey.
Sen. Toomey, in a statement emailed to Slate, said that holding the World Cup in Russia could weaken the force of international sanctions against Vladimir Putin's government and bestow a legitimacy the Russian president does not deserve.
Vladimir Putin is an authoritarian dictator who has crushed democracy in Russia while leading a year-long hostile occupation of another sovereign nation. Now is the time for leaders around the globe to take note of this and to view the Putin regime for what it is—an international pariah...
The FIFA World Cup is viewed and celebrated by billions worldwide and often serves as a showcase for the host nation. Allowing Russia to host this great event in 2018 is akin to rewarding a child for bad behavior. It is my hope that FIFA will acknowledge the actions the Putin regime has taken over the past year and move the World Cup from Russia.
The letter adds visibility to the pleas of Ukranian President Petro Poroshenko, who has called for the World Cup to be moved. "As long as there are Russian troops in Ukraine," he told a German newspaper, "I think a World Cup in that country is unthinkable."
FIFA seems so far unmoved by the criticism, with spokeswoman Delia Fischer telling the Associated Press that the organization intends to keep the 2018 World Cup in Russia. "History has shown so far that boycotting sport events or a policy of isolation or confrontation are not the most effective ways to solve problems," Fisher said, adding that the tournament could serve as "a powerful catalyst for constructive dialogue between people and governments helping to bring positive social developments... but football cannot be seen as a solution for all issues, particularly those related to world politics."