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Corruption, hooligan culture and racism: Is Russia fit to host the 2018 World Cup?

In December 2010, Russia was selected to host the 2018 FIFA World Cup. The decision looked suspicious from the outset — a country known for corruption, hooliganism and racism in football had somehow been selected to host the sport’s largest competition.

It has been shown in recent years that bribery played a part in Russia’s election as tournament host, and antics of their fans at the 2016 European Championships emphasise that a hooligan culture is becoming increasingly rife across the nation. Therefore, the question of whether Russia is fit to host the FIFA World Cup has to be asked.

Many initially cited English fears surrounding the legitimacy of voting as a form of “bad loser mentality”, seeing that our own bid to host the tournament fell at the first hurdle. Yet, what has since been revealed is astonishing. In 2015 FIFA’s Zurich headquarters were raided by Swiss Police due to suspicions of corruption. Then, after being suspended by the federation for that very same reason, former president Sepp Blatter revealed that there was “an agreement in place” for Russia to host the 2018 World Cup prior to the vote even taking place. Thus, the English FA’s suspicions were proven correct. Given that such allegations now seem certain to be true, this alone surely shows that Russia does not deserve to host the tournament?

One of the largest fears surrounding the actual tournament is racism. Russian fans are considered some of the least accepting when it comes to diversity. Brazilian forward Hulk, who used to play club football for Zenit St. Petersburg, stated that “There is always something like this [monkey chants], coming from our opponents’ fans”. Additionally, Hulk’s former international team-mate Roberto Carlos once walked off the pitch after a banana was thrown at him whilst playing for Anzhi Makhachkala. How can such a nation be seen as fit to host a tournament which celebrates diversity? The fact that racism is so common in stadiums worries me. Also, how are Brazilian and African fans, let alone the players, meant to feel assured at any place in Russia when such disgusting events frequently occur?

Not only could travelling fans be sickened by the verbal antics of certain Russian supporters inside the stadium, but there is additionally an emerging violent hooliganism culture in the country which leads to fights outside the grounds. At EURO 2016, fan clashes were highly publicised. Some media outlets opted to blame English fans for rowdy antics — and initially it seemed they were justified in doing so. However, the truth has since unravelled. The drunken Englishmen were targeted by athletic and sober Russians, many of whom had endured intense physical training just to have the “honour” of travelling to France for fighting purposes. The BBC recently investigated the situation, and their documentary “Russia’s Hooligan Army” showed the true extent of the problem. Young men, aged between 18-30, train heavily in gyms, before competing in forest-fights against rival club firms to prepare for international tournaments. With FIFA’s next World Cup being on these hooligans’ home soil, the number of fighters will inevitably be far greater than at the European Championships in France. Thus, fans who do opt to travel to Russia will have to be extremely wary, for attacks seem inevitable.

Russia does however boast fantastic stadiums, and the choice to place all host cities either in or near to”European Russia” means that logistics should not be a problem. In spite of some early setbacks regarding stadium completion, a 2014 visit from FIFA officials concluded the developments to be satisfactory — and thus on-time

I’m open to holding the World Cup anywhere, for as the name suggests, it is a global tournament! Yet, the country clearly has to be ready, both in terms of infrastructure and cultural acceptance, in addition to having won the right to host fairly. Unfortunately Russia appears to have fallen foul of rules two and three. Therefore, surely Russia does not deserve to host the World Cup, and I can only dread to think about the levels of violence which will ensue against English fans, and the amount of racism which will inevitably be heard inside the stadiums against black players. So, is Russia fit to the host the 2018 World Cup? On the evidence available I would have to say no, however I am still hoping that we witness a tournament where the football is remembered, rather than the off-field antics.