Football must learn from its mistakes

As the world is in a state of shock from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, there has been questions regarding those involved with the highest level of football and their stances on human rights.

Earlier this week, FIFA and UEFA announced that Russia will be suspended from all competitions until further notice.

UEFA also announced the termination of their deal with Russian energy supplier Gazprom, which is a major sponsor of the champions league, while Spartak Moscow have been kicked out of the Europa League.

While these decisions are welcome, this is all far too little too late. Football has allowed for the wrong people to be at the very highest level of the game, ignoring the pain they endure on others.

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Even going back to Sunday, FIFA were still willing to allow Russia to compete in international competitions as “Union of Russia”.

Football’s soft stance towards human rights abuses, particularly in Russia, is nothing new. After all, the last World Cup was held there, with Putin presenting every French player with their winner’s medal.

Putin’s intentions are nothing new, especially when it comes to Ukraine. In 2014, Russia invaded the Ukrainian region of Crimea, in a violent conflict that killed thousands of people.

One of those who is closest to Putin is Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich, who has owned the London club for 20 years. Despite his relationship with Putin being in the public eye for quite some time, there has been no sanctions to Abramovich.

However, on Saturday, Abramovich made the surprise announcement to hand the “stewardship and care of Chelsea to the club’s charitable foundation following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.”

In a lengthy, somewhat confusing statement by the club, it now seems that Abramovich has taken a step back from the club, with charitable foundation seeming to now control the club’s finances.

The announcement has not being welcomed by many due to its lack of clarity, with Sky Sports pundit Micah Richards believing it’s a case of “pick the bones out of it and see exactly what it means”.

Abramovich’s finances should have been investigated as soon as his links with Putin became clear. Chelsea have spent billions under his ownership, with the source of that money now under that scrutiny.

With talk of his assets within Britain being seized, Abramovich may have removed himself before further action is taken.

Football through other conflicts

While solidarity to Ukraine was a sight to welcome, support to those in other conflicts across the world have not seen the same support, particularly in Palestine.

In 2016, Celtic received a fine from UEFA for flying Palestine flags in their Champions League qualifier against Hapoel Be’er Sheva.

While the club were fined £8616, fundraising by fans of the club towards Palestinian charities raised twenty times that much, showing their solidarity against Israeli genocide.

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There have never been any actions taken against Israel during this time, with all their clubs able to compete in UEFA and FIFA competitions, while the national team able to carry on like nothing has happened.

The most high-profile condemnation of Israel came from Lionel Messi, who refused to play in a friendly that was organised as a pre-World Cup fixture.

The criticism of Israel by Messi gained huge support by Palestinians, and outrage from the Israel government that the fixture was cancelled.

What can be done in the future?

This year’s biggest sporting event will see the World Cup hosted in Qatar, a country known for its human rights abuses.

As of November, over 15,000 workers have died on building sites for the tournament, with many of those migrants.

Qatar’s treatment of the LGBTQ+ community has also been criticised, with homosexuality viewed as illegal in the state.

In a game that is meant to be for all, many people from different minority groups have died, and will continue to do so to enable this tournament.

Until football thinks money first and human rights seconds, this will continue to happen.

The Author

Michael Bolton

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