Diplomatique.Expert member Charles Camenzuli writes about boycotts in the 88 year history of the World Cup.
2014 was an Olympic year for Russia with Sochi hosting the Winter Olympics. Post Sochi2014 brought up tremors in a foreseen earthquake which has put Russia’s credibility in our world of sport in a rather delicate situation. Doping was and remains the main issue when it comes to such credibility. Bearly six months prior to the Opening Ceremony in Sochi, on the 20th June 2013 the Council of Ministers of the Russian Federation adopted a programme to prepare and carry out the FIFA World Cup 2018. Was time when Vitaly Mutko, deputy prime minister of Russia and leading figure within the Olympic and football fora maintained an influential position despite IOC accusations of being aware of the systematical use of prohibited substances by Russian athletes.
The 2018 FIFA World Cup kicks off on the 14th June. However to date, too many questions remain unanswered. After the March 2014 tragedy soon after the Sochi Olympic Games western leader blamed Russia for the crash of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 – another blow for Russia raising eyebrows much more than the IOC Doping Report and eventual ban of Russian Athletes from Rio 2016 and Pyeongchang 2018 Olympics. More to come.
The alleged poisoning of Sergei Skripal – 66 year old former Russian Intelligence official who while with his daughter Yulia was found dead in Salisbury , on the 6th. March made Boris Johnson to hint that English officials should refuse to attend the FIFA World Cup in Russia. Was that a hint or statement as soon after further reactions followed.
What about boycotts relative to the 88 year old history of the World Cup.
Uruguay as winners of the first edition held in Montevideo in 1930 , declined to defend their title in Italy in 1934 and in France in 1938 in protest at the lack of teams from Europe who had travelled to Uruguay. Moreover FA Committee member Charles Sutcliffe referred to the competition as ‘ a joke’ and on same lines England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland refused to take part as their championships were of a higher standard that what FIFA organised.
In 1938 Argentina pronounced boycott to the World Cup as was expecting to be hosts themselves on the understanding that the competition would alternate between South America and Europe as leading football continents.
In 1950 India withdrew claiming that they ere not given permission to play barefoot as after all they did two years earlier at the 1948 Olympic Games in London . For the 1950 edition in Brazil, FIFA had granted a qualifying position for Asia but with the withdrawl of Indonesia, Philippines and Burma, India were automatic qualfiers . Eversince India never qualified for the finals.
Scotland also turned down the place in the finals when they lost to England considering themselves of not being British champions.
In 1958 the problems broke in connection with Israel’s partipation at that time considered as an Asian team drawn to play qualifiers against teams from both Asia and Africa. In the process Turkey, Indonesia, Egypt and Sudan – withdrew, refusing to play Israel on political grounds . Isreal however according to the rules of FIFA were not considered as qualified since they didn’t play a single match. Isreal was made to play againt Wales being the best non-qualifier from Europe. Eventually Isreal lost to Wales.
For the 1966 edition held in England a total boycott by the African continent was registered.Other World Cups have seen individual teams refuse to go – but 1966 in England was the only one to be boycotted by an entire continent. According to FIFA, the 16 teams in the finals were to be from Europe (10), Latin America (4) Central Ameria (1) and Caribbean (1) .By October 1964 following such decision together with the apartheid question of South Africa, 15 African nations withdrew from qualifying round.
The Soviet Union in the times of the Cold War refused to play Chile in the play-off with the result that lost their chance to be in the 1974 finals. The Soviet Union referred to the way Pinochet went in power and to the execution of prisoners in the Santiago Stadium. FIFA refused to change the venue, the team from Soviet Union remain in Moscow with the result that Chile team present in Santiago Stadium were given a walk-over …scoring in an empty net !
Fear was sky high in connection with the Falklands War in 1982 – which was however ended just days before the start of the World Cup with England and Argentina eliminated in the early stage of the competition – this avoiding to meet on the field of play.
FIFA World Cup remains the best scenario irrespective of the political, economic or social implications which Russia is or might be facing . Moreover for Russia the social dimension and the strengthening of national price and identity are the main three priorities for the 2018 – Event of the Year – even if with all fairness this can be a distraction from the everyday economic difficulties. To be or not to be. That is the question !
About the author:
Charles Camenzuli is the President of the AIPS (The International Sports Association). He is also a highly respected sports journalist in Malta has been awarded several sports journalism awards in his career and is still very active with his weekly sports programme Sports Extra and regular contributions in local printed media. Camenzuli has been an active member within the Executive Committee of the Malta Sports Journalists Association since 1974 occupying several roles within the Executive Committee introducing himself gradually first as an EC member, then appointed Treasurer, afterwards as General Secretary and then President. His area of expertise is sports and sport diplomacy.