Is anyone willing to rain on Putin's World Cup parade?


National Post, 14 June 2018

The Russian president will exploit the event for his imperial pretensions. Will the world permit that, or use the spotlight to challenge him?

NAFTA may be dead, but the NAFTA World Cup will be coming in 2026. FIFA announced Wednesday that Canada, Mexico and the United States will jointly host the event. The only other jointly hosted World Cup was between historic enemies Japan and Korea in 2002, so perhaps FIFA knows something about the future of North American relations that we don’t.

That’s all eight years off. Today, the 2018 World Cup begins, a solid month where my lack of interest in football — soccer, that is — puts me in the distinct minority of global sports fans, who will be following the intense excitement that only a 1-nil thriller can bring.

Permit me then to pass over the drama — or it is melodrama, given the theatrics for which international football is famous? — on the pitch and consider the geopolitics of the event.

The opening match is in Moscow and pits the host, Russia, against Saudi Arabia, which is suitable. The next World Cup will be in Qatar, but it did not qualify for the tournament this time. Saudi Arabia though is a Western-friendly, oil-rich repressive regime, so Russia-Saudi will be an apt curtain-raiser on FIFA’s World Cup turn toward tyranny.

How will the world community deal with Russia’s turn on the world stage? President Vladimir Putin will exploit the World Cup for his imperial pretensions. Will the world permit that, or use the spotlight to challenge Putin?

What President Donald Trump will do one never knows, but the global spotlight of the World Cup will prove irresistible, so we can expect a month of presidential commentary on Putin, on Russia, on the investigation of Russian interference in the American election, and on whatever else one might learn about Russia from watching cable news.

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