Britain was the first to resolve to boycott the 2018 FIFA World Cup, doing so in March this year. The reason for this was the Kremlin’s failure to respond to a British ultimatum that demanded to explain how the Novichok nerve-paralytic agent came to Britain, where it was used to poison ex-spy Sergey Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Salisbury. Prime Minister Theresa May stressed during a speech in the parliament that there would be no ministers or members of the royal family attending the Russian World Cup, although Prince William is president of the Football Association of England and previously attended similar events. After that, leaders of Iceland followed the UK’s lead.
In May, the Human Rights Watch non-profit organization also joined the initiative, appealing to world leaders to boycott the opening ceremony of the World Cup until Russian President Vladimir Putin takes steps to protect Syrian civilians. The executive director of the organization Kenneth Roth said that world leaders “should signal to President Putin that unless he changes track and acts to end atrocities by Russian and Syrian forces in Syria, they won’t be in their seats in the VIP box with him on opening night.”
The Australian official delegation, which will also be absent from the championship, has joined the call, the SBS News reports. That resource says that Australia has repeatedly protested against human rights violations in Russia and its breaches of international law, including the annexation of Crimea. In addition, 27 Australian citizens were on board of the Malaysian Airlines aircraft which was shot down over the Donbas.
Ambassador of Ukraine to Finland Andrii Olefirov tweeted that the country’s leadership would not attend the soccer event either. “It is a common sense-inspired decision, not something due to my efforts. Each of us is doing their part at their station. However, let us bring #BoycottWorldCup2018 to the top of Twitter, since we are present there,” he said. The boycott of the World Cup’s opening ceremony was also announced by leaders of Poland and Canada.
At the same time, Germany’s position is not so clear. German Chancellor Angela Merkel said in an interview with the ARD TV channel this week that she did not see any fundamental reasons for refusing to travel to the World Cup in Russia. She neither confirmed nor denied her attendance at the opening ceremony of the event and said that the trip would depend on how packed her schedule would be, more so since it could be combined with political negotiations as well. President of France Emmanuel Macron has also refrained from supporting a clear boycott. During a visit to St. Petersburg, the French leader promised that he would come to Russia if the French team reaches the semifinals, despite appeals from human rights watchdogs not to do so, Reuters reports.
British singer Robbie Williams, who will sing at the opening ceremony of the competition, was also criticized. William Browder, an investor and one of the initiators of the Magnitsky List, wrote on Twitter: “There’s lots of ways to make money @robbiewilliams, but selling your soul to a dictator shouldn’t be one of them. Shame on you. This message is on behalf of Sergei Magnitsky, Boris Nemtsov, Anna Politkovskaya, Natalia Estemirova, victims of MH17, 10,000 dead Ukrainian soldiers...”