Last Monday I was at my desk updating a survey I’d carried out at the end of the Summer when, on the Russian search portal Yandex, news flashed up of an incident in Syria.
Apparently a Russian plane had been shut down by Turkish forces and the pilot killed. I turned to my colleague Sergey and asked him if I was reading this news right, he shook his head and growled, “This is all shit, complete shit”.
The facts are still in dispute, the Turks (those same kind folks who imprison dissenting journalists, buy oil from ISIS and allow Syrian Kurds be slaughtered) claim the plane was in their airspace. The Russians (and surviving navigator) contradict this.
One of the rescuers was killed by “rebel” fire and within hours our Sports Minister was telling football clubs to forget about training camps in Turkey.
Football was dragged centre stage even further when clubs were informed that they would not be allowed to employ any new Turkish imports, though existing players would be okay. Charter flights were cancelled to Turkey and Russian holidaymakers told to look elsewhere for a cheap sun holiday.
Naturally football clubs and the suffering Russian populace were informed that Crimea is ready and willing to take them all into its welcoming, undeveloping bosom. This is the same Crimea under an energy blockade from friends of the west Ukraine.
Last year most Second Division clubs took up the Kremlin offer of Crimea as a base, even though most were very unhappy with it.
Speaking with a number I was told stories of rooms with damp meeting in the middle of walls, of rats and mice cohabiting (apparently impossible biologically) and of scenes reminiscent of Stalingrad in dining rooms when players literally sprinted back from training to grab the last available pieces of bread.
The plan of increasing tourist numbers (especially domestic) appears to be working for the Kremlin. So when the price of oil drops further they will have diversified the economy by 0.002%, no matter that agriculture continues to suffer and dairy products (in particular cheeses) go from bad to awful. All is good and VVP’s approval rating is now up at 90%.
It was natural that football would be dragged into the mire of international stupidity in the face of what is a growing threat to a civilised and open way of life.
The Paris attacks, bombing of a Russian charter flight from Egypt, and the ongoing tragedy that is Syria, matter far more than where a bunch of over overpaid and under-skilled athletes go to escape the freezing Russian winter.
I know this is true, yet I think more about how my and my colleagues plans to be in Turkey for meetings in March now has to change and with it our whole plan for our Spring launches. I’m selfish like that, or maybe just practical, or tired.
I’m tired of football (and sport) being used by politicians and vested interests to further their own agendas. I was traveling to Ireland when the Pound Report was released and by morning I’d received a list of requests to give “the other sides” view.
Almost all were English-speaking outlets and all had an agenda and the same questions. Will Russia learn from this? Will they be clean in future? Will the government stop supporting it/turning a blind eye?
Of the 15 requests I took up just one, because it was an open discussion on the problem of doping in sports and what was being done to fight it. Not just a hatchet job to deflect from the real job at hand. For me sport is far more important than advancing a warped political agenda, more than death – it is life, it is hope.
Russian clubs and their Presidents toed the Kremlin line very quickly, even the bould Smorodskaya of Lokomotiv fame who had initially said – we’ve a plan, we’ve paid, we’re going.
That her money comes almost exclusively from the Government Railway company means her forthright statement was going to change once she got a tap on the shoulder.
No club in Russia can ignore a Kremlin diktat, otherwise they’ll have to shut up shop in the morning. None are solvent or independently financed. All have political representatives at their helm (or nominally in control), so they just did as they were told.
So now clubs will re-evaluate, look inwards and see what they will do. The richer ones will be in the Emirates (where ISIS and co move most of their funds) or South East Asia, and some will go to Greece, Tunisia or Morocco. And of course Spain and Portugal will be attractive as always. Life will go on and football will still happen.
Having seen the solidarity shown by the French and English fans, by others across Europe, in the aftermath of the Paris atrocities, there was a sliver of hope that football might be our saviour.
True a small part of the Bosnian contingent showed how Saudi money has perverted enough minds in the former Yugoslav republic so that a few morons would think they had anything in common with the backward idiots who claim to be the same faith as them.
And the reaction in Turkey when they played Greece should have come as no surprise to anyone with an ability to read or listen to news reports from that fractured land. The Turks suffer under a nepotistic leader who dallies with ISIS and allows their killers run free to kill Turks in return for cheap oil and keeping the Kurds in check.
When football stood tall and able to carry the hope of a continent, the idiot few who head states destroyed the chance to use sport to make a bold statement and retain normality in a time of crises.
Instead Russian football now enters a critical period with clubs having to change plans, disrupt seasons and this is already having a knock on effect, when it comes to France next Summer. Now Leonid Slutsky will have a harder time to get the most out of a below average bunch of players.
We won’t be having Turkey this Christmas, or for the foreseeable future it appears.