It’s been a light news week, thus the lack of posts of late. Which means that we are reduced to commenting on the latest silliness coming out of Ukraine, this time concerning the Ukrainian national football/soccer team’s shirts for the Euro 2020 tournament.
Euro 2020, as the name suggests, was meant to take place last year, but was postponed due to the covid pandemic, and is starting on Friday, when Turkey take on Italy in Rome. The Ukrainian team, which is meant to be quite good, is in Group C, alongside the Netherlands, Austria, and North Macedonia.
As the BBC reports, the Ukrainian team’s newly unveiled shirt has caused a little bit of a stink in Russia, as it shows a very faint map of Ukraine, including within its contours the Crimean peninsula. The BBC cites Russian Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Mariia Zakharova as complaining that the Ukrainians had thereby ‘attached Ukraine’s territory to Russia’s Crimea.’ creating the ‘illusion of the impossible.’
Second in my series of soccer-related objects is this Zenit St Petersburg jersey bought by my son when visiting Russia’s preeminent northern city this August. Zenit are the current champions of the Russian Premier League.
My Friday objects for October will all be soccer-related (football-related for Brits). First up is a Lokomotiv Moscow Scarf. Lokomotiv won the Russian Cup in 2015, beating Kuban Krasnodar 3-1 in the final.
Soccer is much on my mind this week. On Friday, my oldtimers team plays its season opener against the nearby town of Russell, and on Saturday I hope to be able to watch Arsenal face off against Aston Villa in the FA Cup Final. Victories for my team and for the Arsenal will make it a good weekend.
Outside the harsh environment of oldtimers, the main live soccer event this summer in Ottawa is the Women’s World Cup which comes here in June. So far it looks as if the tournament should be a great success. In contrast, the men’s world cup, scheduled for Russia in 2018 and Qatar in 2022, is in trouble following the arrest in Switzerland of seven senior officials of the sport’s governing body, FIFA. The seven are facing extradition to the United States on charges of ‘accepting millions of dollars in bribes over 24 years to allocate tournaments and rig elections.’
The arrests have immediately sent conspiracy theorists into overdrive. The Moon of Alabama blog, for instance, links them to an upcoming vote in FIFA’s congress to suspend Israel’s membership because of accusations of discrimination against Palestinian players. The implication is that the United States is attempting to discredit FIFA prior to the vote and deflect attention away from the Israel issue.
Others, meanwhile, link the arrests to current political tensions between America and Russia, and view them as a first step towards stopping Russia from hosting the 2018 World Cup. Russian military and political commentator El-Murid goes even further and sees the objective as being eventual criminal indictments against high Russian officials. ‘The fact that the Americans initiated the affair’, he writes, ‘shows us that the highest echelons of world politics are involved in it. Putin must receive his own Lockerbie, and nobody hides the aim. He must be made a worldwide outlaw, in order to suggest to his entourage that they should surrender their boss in return for personal guarantees.’
I don’t buy it. As the Russian Sports Minister has noted, the arrests are not actually linked to the World Cups in Russia and Qatar. Rather, the charges laid against the FIFA officials stretch back a quarter of a century and also include allegations concerning the 2010 World Cup in South Africa and the 2016 Copa America in the United States. Swiss authorities say that a separate investigation is underway to look at claims that Russia and Qatar won the rights to hold the cup finals in their countries by bribing FIFA officials, but that is a different issue. The vast sums of money involved in professional soccer have sadly corrupted the game at the highest level. That reality, far more than geopolitics, probably lies behind today’s arrests.