After the attack on Sergei Skripal, should England’s football team boycott the World Cup in Russia?
Robert Colvile, director of the Centre for Policy Studies, says YES.
Russia is a gangster state.
It has murdered on British soil, invaded its neighbours and annexed their territory, sponsored the partisans who shot down Flight MH17, interfered with the US elections, promoted extremist groups across Europe, and protected Bashar al-Assad as he slaughters his own people.
In the sporting world alone, it engaged in a vast state-sponsored doping programme that tainted successive Olympic Games.
I am under no illusion that Vladimir Putin will change his ways if we boycott the World Cup – but the time is long past when it is appropriate to treat Russia like a normal member of the international community, or to find excuses for its actions.
The World Cup, like the Sochi Olympics before it, will be a monument to a corrupt and despicable regime, a grand stage upon which Tsar Vladimir can strut in front of his adoring people.
The question is not “should we boycott it?” but “how can we not?”
Alex Deane, a Conservative commentator, says NO.
From doping East German shotputters, to mutual USA/USSR Olympic Cold War boycotts, the use and abuse of international sporting competitors for political ends achieves nothing other than harming the careers (or, in the German Democratic Republic, the lives) of athletes.
Championships on four-year cycles mean that many competitors get one shot at what they do best. To stymie that opportunity harms them, and the fans who enjoy watching them compete, to no useful end. This England team has every right to make the quarter-finals and be eliminated on penalties just like its predecessors did.
The anger rightly felt about what happened in Salisbury and the desire to punish the perpetrators do not justify the boycott proposed. These are sportsmen and women, not politicians or political pawns. Unlike with the Russian Olympics doping ban, there is no suggestion of individual or collective misdoing by our footballers. Where the games are to be held is not their fault.
Mounting a campaign to stop a country hosting is one thing, and probably appropriate. Boycotting is simply self-harm – nothing but an own goal.