Progress | Centre-left Labour politics

The Last Word: Nefarious, brutal, dangerous – and weak

The World Cup exposes the immorality of football’s governing body. But it also exposes Vladimir Putin’s regime, writes Robert Philpot

‘Everything I know about morality and the duty of man’, Albert Camus once declared, he owed to football.

If he were alive to witness this summer’s World Cup, the French philosopher would surely have to avoid his eyes straying too far from the pitch.

On the eve of yesterday’s kick-off, Vladimir Putin addressed Fifa’s annual congress in Moscow. He thanked delegates – almost all of whom, bar England’s football executives, gave him a standing ovation – for ‘not mixing politics with sport’.

As well the butcher of Aleppo might.

As the Observer’s Nick Cohen forensically detailed over the weekend, Fifa’s self-professed commitment to ‘social responsibility, human rights, environmental protection and gender equality’ is a farce.

It has refused, for instance, to indicate whether it sought any meaningful commitments to human rights when it began negotiations with Putin’s henchmen. This in a country where journalists who do not parrot the Kremlin line are harassed and murdered, opposition politicians jailed or gunned down in the streets, and lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans Russians brutally persecuted.

That is, of course, to say nothing as to whether a country with the blood of thousands of Syrians on its hands and which has destabilised and invaded its neighbours; meddled in the elections of its foes; and offered its largesse to far-right racist parties throughout western Europe is really a suitable host for the beautiful game.

Indeed, Fifa will not even, it seems, lift a finger to protect those to whom one might have assumed it owed a special duty of care. Last year, it fought a legal effort by Dutch and Bangladeshi trade unions to force it to ensure the organisers of Qatar’s World Cup – the next bastion of human rights this morally vacuous organisation has picked to host the 2022 tournament – protects migrant workers building its stadiums. Campaigners fear 4,000 people may have lost their lives by the time the games open in the wealthy emirate four years hence.

Fifa’s defence was a feeble, self-serving one. It claimed in the Swiss court where the Qatar case was brought that it was in the business of football, not dictating the domestic policies of its hosts. But, as Cohen rightly noted, this is nonsense. Fifa does require those staging the World Cup to protect its intellectual property and to ensure that its sponsorship and commercial partners’ rights are enforced. Why, then, could Fifa not also demand that those building the stadiums from which it will reap huge profits do not die while theyare being paid 57p a day?

So the true hero of Russia 2018 will not be featuring in any chants from the terraces, and he certainly will not be enjoying any of Putin’s grubby hospitality. Yesterday, the brave and tireless human rights advocate, Peter Tatchell, was briefly arrested after travelling to Moscow to show solidarity with the regime’s many victims.

And we should take comfort from this thought. However nefarious, brutal and dangerous, Putin acts from weakness. As the veteran broadcaster, David Dimbleby, concluded after a recent visit to Russia: ‘The west will not invest in Russia because it is seen as a high-risk proposition, corrupt, its courts unreliable. As a result, the president cannot secure the foreign investment that might deliver sustained growth. Nor can he rely on internal entrepreneurs. His country is home to 144 million people, but the economy is only two-thirds the size of Britain’s.’

Thirty days of football will not change any of those stubborn facts.

The gain in Spain

Last week, Pedro Sanchez became prime minister of Spain. Despite its tenuous grip on power, it is a remarkable achievement by the Spanish Socialist party, reports of whose death have been greatly exaggerated. Rather than succumbing to ‘Pasokification’, the PSOE managed to defy expectations and just avoid being overtaken by the hard left Podemos party in the difficult general elections of 2015 and 2016. The party’s return to power is a well-deserved testament to the Socialists’ crucial role in securing Spain’s return to democracy in the late 1970s and former prime minister Felipe Gonzalez’s subsequent effort to modernise the country and cast off the dark shroud of Francoism.

In the pits of public opinion

Pity the Canary, Jeremy Corbyn’s online cheerleader. Yesterday, research on the United Kingdom’s most trusted news brands was released. Topping the list were the BBC, ITV News and Channel 4. Regional media, the Times and the Guardian followed closely behind. The Canary languished towards the tabloid end of the table, just squeezing a well-earned place above the Daily Mail.

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Robert Philpot is a contributing editor to Progress, and writes the weekly Last Word column. He tweets at @Robert_Philpot

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Photo: ITV

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Robert Philpot

is a contributing editor to Progress magazine and former director of Progress

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