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Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Are calls for England to boycott world cup opportunist nonsense?

I was very disappointed this morning to see otherwise very sensible politicians calling for England to boycott this year's World Cup in retaliation to the near-fatal attack on former Russian spy, Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Salisbury.

Amongst those jumping on the bandwagon are former Lib Dem Leader and Blackburn Rovers fan, Tim Farron, and Aberavon Labour MP, Stephen Kinnock.

Of all the possible sanctions that could be imposed against Russia, this one is the most problematic - even if we do put to one side the concern whether England would be there long enough to make a boycott worthwhile.

I recall the attempt by Margaret Thatcher to persuade our athletes to boycott the 1980 Moscow summer Olympics following the Russian invasion of Afghanistan. She soon discovered that sports people have minds of their own and that this was not an area she had any control over.

Great Britain went to the games and took advantage of the USA's absence to return with 21 medals. I suspect that any attempt to put pressure on the English FA would lead to a similar snub.

England cannot stand alone in seeking to make a point of boycotting the World Cup. They would need other countries to follow suit and given the lukewarm response from Europe and the USA to Theresa May's outrage over the use of chemical weapons on British soil, joint action is unlikely.

A boycott by England alone would likely just increase Russia's chances of getting to the final stages and would be easily brushed off by Putin. I suspect nobody in Russia would even notice.

There are far more effective sanctions that the UK can take against Russia, some of which may even get support from the EU and the USA. Choosing an easy target like England's presence in the World Cup is just opportunistic nonsense. It is politicians seeking easy headlines. I for one am not convinced that it will be an effective or realistic option.
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