BoJo Sticks the Boot In: Will England Really Boycott the World Cup?

Fifa World CupAh, Boris. Never before has the foreign secretary shown such a basic disregard for, erm, international relations than the man who looks like Donald Trump has been put through a car wash.

Not long after admonishing Vladimir Putin and Russia for their reaction to the poisoning scandal that broke out in Salisbury a few weeks ago, Johnson has this week likened Putin, in a roundabout way, to Adolf Hitler.

BoJo was speaking at a meeting this week of the all-party foreign affairs select committee, and reacted to a quip from Labour MP Ian Austin who when discussing the summer’s football World Cup, which will be hosted by Russia, suggested that ‘Putin is going to use it [the World Cup] in the way Hitler used the 1936 Olympics’.

And rather than display his outstanding skills in diplomacy, Johnson responded: “I think that your characterisation of what is going to happen in Moscow, the World Cup, in all the venues – yes, I think the comparison with 1936 is certainly right. It is an emetic prospect of Putin glorying in this sporting event.”

Rather than leave the pot simmering, Boris then decided to stir it some more by intimating that the recent Russian election as rigged, with ‘no true competitive choice’ available to voters other than Putin. He went on to claim that the UK was ‘being picked on’ by Russia due to our firm stance on human rights, Syria and the strained relations between the Russians and the Ukraine.

At a time of increasing sensitivity between the UK and Russia, Johnson’s comments are hardly a great help. Their foreign ministry has responded to BoJo’s remarks by saying he is ‘poisoned with venom of hate, unprofessionalism and boorishness’, and “…it’s scary to remember that this person represents the political leadership of a nuclear power.”

They have, perhaps, got a point.

But Will England Boycott the World Cup as a Result?

It is highly unlikely that the England team will be pulled out of the World Cup this summer, although there could well be other issues for supporters wanting to travel to Russia to support the team.

Theresa May recently began a process of expelling Russian diplomats from the UK in the wake of the poisoning of Sergei Skripal, and one such diplomat was the individual responsible for liaising with the Football Association about safety concerns in the country has already been kicked out.

Russia themselves retaliated by closing the British consulate in St Petersburg, which would have been the destination for English football fans who had suffered at the hands of any Russian hooligans.

The country’s ‘ultras’ became notorious for their antics at the European Championships in France in 2016, and through various spokesmen have promised English fans a rather torrid time should they travel to Russia.

Consequently just 24,000 tickets have been sold to English fans for the summer showpiece – compared to the 94,000 who purchased tickets for the last World Cup in Brazil, so it appears that British fans are voting with their feet.

When later asked to clarify his comments about Russia, Johnson said: “We want to see the safety of UK people going to the World Cup, that’s the most important thing, [but] I think that the idea of Vladimir Putin glorying in a great sporting occasion and receiving the adulation of international figures is, as I said, emetic.

“So I stick by completely what I said.”

A boycott of the World Cup, of sorts, has been confirmed, with no government ministers from the UK or member of the Royal Family travelling to Russia, but it remains unlikely that the England team will pull out.

But if they did, it could spell disaster for Russia with other NATO members, such as tournament favourites Germany, France and Spain, likely to follow suit.