If England were to boycott this year’s World Cup it would be a strong message to the Kremlin, according to Westminster’s Diocesan Chaplain for Sport.
England is set to take part in this year’s tournament, which is scheduled to take place in Russia from 14th June to 15th July. However Mgr Vladimir Felzmann suggested that a boycott would be a “strong message” from the country following the Kremlin’s alleged use of a nerve agent on former spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Salisbury.
“George Orwell thought that sport is war minus the shooting. In certain circumstances, he had a point,” Mgr Felzmann told The Universe.
“As Great Britain has so very few of them, Theresa May cannot send a gunboat into St Petersburg. She can however send a strong message – which will be swiftly disseminated throughout our Global City – that Great Britain, and that still includes England, finds state-sponsored assassinations abhorrent – unacceptable, by encouraging the FA to boycott the World Cup – totally,” he added.
Mgr Felzmann’s comment comes following calls for the Prime Minister to consider going further than Boris Johnson’s suggestion that officials and dignitaries may not attend the World Cup in the wake of the Salisbury attack.
John Woodcock, chairman of Labour’s backbench foreign affairs committee, said England should immediately rule out sending any dignitaries or senior politicians to the tournament, and that the team’s participation should also be in doubt.
However Mrs May sidestepped calls to ask Fifa to consider postponing the World Cup in Russia.
Mrs May, in response to Mr Kinnock questioning whether she was concerned that holding the tournament in Russia could be seen as “a global vindication” of President Vladimir Putin’s regime, said the choice of where events were held was a matter for the sporting authorities.
However, Mgr Felzmann, who is also CEO of the John Paul II Foundation for Sport, said that if there were to be a groundswell – if not exactly a referendum – around the country, the FA “might show guts and do the right thing”.
He pointed out that sport played its part in putting Apartheid in South Africa under pressure when the country was subject to a variety of international boycotts.
“A boycott won’t change Putin but it will show that the UK still has its ethical principles, albeit no longer the teeth to coerce,” he said.
“Being an optimist, I would doubt that in retaliation Putin would poison members of the FA.
“Given my name, Putin might go for me but we all have to die sooner or later. Better standing up for a principle than, in fear, lie down and do nowt.”
This weekend’s Premier League fixtures:
Saturday 17th March
AFC Bournemouth v West Bromwich Albion – 3:00pm
Huddersfield Town v Crystal Palace – 3:00pm
Stoke City v Everton – 3:00pm
Liverpool v Watford – 5:30pm
This weekend’s FA Cup fixtures:
Saturday 17th March
Swansea City v Tottenham Hotspur – 12:15pm
Manchester United v Brighton & Hove Albion – 7:45pm
Sunday 18th March
Wigan Athletic v Southampton – 1:30pm
Leicester City v Chelsea – 4:30pm
Picture: Russian President Vladimir Putin attends the Final Draw event of the FIFA World Cup 2018 at the State Kremlin Palace in Moscow, capital of Russia, on 1st December 2017. (Xinhua/Bai Xueqi/PA).