The World Cup kicks off on Thursday night when hosts Russia face Saudi Arabia. It’s…
Jordan Peele’s 2017 horror classic “Get Out” is about a black man named Chris, played by the excellent Daniel Kaluuya, who spends a weekend meeting his white girlfriend’s parents. The twist in the tale comes when he realises that there’s something deeply sinister about a family that seems a little too enthusiastic to welcome him into their home. I won’t spoil it for you if you haven’t already seen it – but make sure you do.
The film’s brilliance comes from the way writer and director, Jordan Peele, illustrates how a seemingly normal situation can, in fact, be fraught with signs of tension, discomfort and downright danger when viewed from a different point of view. Sure, all hell eventually breaks loose but long before that we’re shown what white suburbia can look like to a black man. And it’s almost just as terrifying.
The upcoming World Cup in Russia kicks off tomorrow and will begin a month of partying, sporting exuberance and wall-to-wall joy from hardcore and casual football fans alike, but it also offers a completely different situation based on your perspective.
From a Scottish point of view, there’s certainly plenty to take in. My colleague James Cairney eloquently listed numerous reasons earlier in the week, but as we view this competition from the outside it’s impossible not to stick a little asterisk alongside the official FIFA branding. There’s something deeply wrong with the most amazing competition in all of world sport.
Russia, naturally, is at the heart of the ill feeling most have towards this competition.
Late last year the International Olympic Committee banned Russia from the Winter Olympics for state-sponsored doping. The sports minister at the time, Vitaly Mutko, was also banned but has since taken up a new role at the Kremlin – deputy Prime Minister. And will most likely feature heavily in the coming World Cup.
As far back as 2010, former British spy, Christopher Steele, compiled a report for the English FA that suggested that Vladimir Putin had enlisted the help of notable Russian oligarchs – including Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich – and ministers to bribe FIFA officials into voting for Russia to host the 2018 World Cup. And despite the football governing body rating Russia’s bid as the riskiest of all potential hosts at the time and many believing a World Cup final in Moscow was a farfetched concept at the beginning of campaigning, it was Russia that stood alongside an equally suspicious Qatar on stage to receive the competition.
“We are honoured to win in this tough and fair fight,” Putin said in Zurich after the decision had been made. In late 2014, after FIFA had launched an ethics committee and investigation in to each campaign, a report stated that Russia had been “highly uncooperative” and accused Putin’s state of destroying all computers and emails used to win the bid shortly after they had indeed won the award – although they were cleared of any official wrongdoing last year.
Yet even if FIFA sleep soundly in their beds at night after justifying the sporting case for Russia, we’re still talking about a country that annexed a large chunk of Ukraine four years after winning the 2018 World Cup bid, is currently under investigation by the FBI for meddling in the recent US presidential elections, stands accused of poisoning British-based, ex-Russian spy, Sergei Skripal, sponsoring cyberwarfare and supporting a tyrannical dictator in Syria. And that’s before we even begin to thumb through the domestic problems Russia currently faces.
FIFA has chosen to project the beautiful game upon the backdrop of a country that faces huge issues with racism in its domestic game and still has no legal protection for discriminated members of the LGBT community. In a recent two-part documentary for BBC Scotland, Frankie Boyle concluded his time in the country by stating that each person he spoke to seemed all too aware of criticism towards the state and took every opportunity to point out that they supported Putin and his government.
While fans in Russia will undoubtedly enjoy themselves and any threat of football hooligans will have long since been dealt with by the authorities, we still can’t ignore the fact that behind whatever show the Kremlin puts on for the world will be a regime that remains at odds with so many aspects of how we all live our lives. And by hosting our beloved game and its competitions there FIFA legitimise the actions that have been taken.
Ultimately, the bone of contention isn’t really with Russia but with FIFA itself. Where we should be welcoming and basking in the festivities of a World Cup we now find ourselves in direct opposition with what it is supporting. FIFA, a loathsome institution in its own right, has taken our sport and turned it directly on us. And unless we’re willing to switch off our brains for the next month it’ll be a constant source of anguish where beauty and the sweet embrace of escapism once welcomed us with both arms.
Without an emotional attachment to our team being at the competition, ours is a sober, contemplating perspective of the competition that stands before us. As Scottish football fans, we can surely envy each and every national team in Russia this summer but can also lambast the entire thing for existing in the first place. It’s impossible to view this entire farce objectively and not regret the state of modern football.
BBC Scotland recently released the outstanding documentary “Scotland 78: A love story” to commemorate a period in our history in which thousands of football fans travelled to the other side of the world to watch Scotland take part in a World Cup we foolishly thought we could actually win.
Ex-players were interviewed, well-travelled fans recited their stories from the road and former journalists and broadcasters tried to paint a picture of what it was all like. Yet only one line in the whole show was dedicated to the fact that the competition took place in a country that had been overthrown by a military coup two years prior to the first Scots arriving in the country. And even at that, it was Archie MacPherson pointing out that he did his best to ignore the young men lined up against walls by officers in guns just around the corner from Scotland’s training ground. That isn’t what the World Cup was about and he was just there to “enjoy the football.”
There’s no doubt that had Scotland qualified for this competition in Russia thousands upon thousands of fans would have made their way to Moscow, St Petersburg or wherever else was required of them. And they would have done so in blissful ignorance. We all would have.
But we didn’t. And now we’re left to watch this competition – and undoubtedly enjoy it – from the comfort of our living rooms or a favoured pub. But while Toni Kroos, Lionel Messi or Neymar delight us with fleeting moments of brilliance, the aftertaste still remains. This is a competition devoid of moral conviction. A broken World Cup. And it’s impossible to avoid.