Blumenthal Calls on FIFA to Reject Russia as World Cup Host

Blumenthal Highlights This Action As One of Many World Must Take to Hold Russia Accountable For Activity in Syria

[WASHINGTON, D.C.] – U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) today called on the Federation Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) to reject Russia as a host country for the 2018 World Cup. In a letter today, Blumenthal urged FIFA to recognize it has a duty to society that goes beyond the sport and this includes rejecting Russia as a host country due to its role enabling gross violations of international law in Syria.

“Putin’s clear complicity in the heinous Syrian chemical attack must immediately disqualify Russia from hosting the 2018 World Cup soccer tournament,” Blumenthal said. “The missile strike sent a message to the Assad regime and his Russian enablers, but will have no meaning without a comprehensive plan to increase the cost of Russia’s involvement. The United States and European Union must unite to enforce strong, multilateral sanctions on Russia’s energy, defense and banking sectors. Putin cares deeply about his strong-man image and uses international sporting events like the Olympics and World Cup to bolster his ego. Revoking the World Cup—as part of a comprehensive strategy— is one message Putin will immediately understand.”

Russia is a close ally of the Assad regime, intervening militarily on its side in the civil war and stationing troops there in support of Assad. The chemical attack the world witnessed in Khan Sheikhoun, Syria, on April 4th, 2017, revealed the reality of Russia’s complicity in violating the Geneva Conventions and the laws of armed conflict. Russian President Vladimir Putin will seek to use the World Cup to distract Russians from his illegal international actions in the lead up to his own re-election campaign next year.

Copy of the letter’s text is available here and below:

Dear Mr. Infantino:

I urge you to reconsider the decision to host the 2018 World Cup in Russia. The government of the host nation, led by Vladimir Putin, has taken repeated actions completely inconsistent with the humanitarian values of FIFA. Your organization rightly acknowledges it has “a duty to society that goes beyond football.” That duty must include recognizing Russia is an unsuitable host nation, given its role enabling gross violations of international law in Syria.

Russia is a close ally of the Assad regime, intervening militarily on its side in the civil war and stationing troops there in support of Assad. The chemical attack the world witnessed in Khan Sheikhoun, Syria, on April 4th, 2017, revealed the reality of Russia’s complicity in violating the Geneva Conventions and the laws of armed conflict.

Despite Russia’s 2013 commitment to remove all chemical weapons from Syria, Putin allowed Assad to conceal dangerous reserves and reconstitute the capability to use them—actions certainly evident to the Russian forces who were operating at the same air base used to launch the deadly sarin gas attack. The results were horrific. Babies and children choking, gasping for breath, foaming at the mouth. A young father cradling the lifeless bodies of his nine month old twins. Rather than join the international community to hold Assad accountable for this intolerable attack, the Russian government is helping cover up this war crime.

The United States is investigating the presence of a Russian drone during the chemical attack and the subsequent airstrike by a Russian-made aircraft on the very hospital tending to the wounded victims, many of them children – itself a further violation of the law of armed conflict. This violation of the Geneva Protocol that prohibits chemical weapons and the Chemical Weapons Convention occurred just days after Russia vetoed for the seventh time a UN resolution to sanction Assad and stop the supply of the Russian-made helicopters that drop chemical weapons and barrel bombs on civilians. After the chemical attack, Russia again vetoed international efforts to end the war in Syria. I urge you to not turn a blind eye to these facts.

Putin will seek to use the World Cup to distract Russians from his illegal international actions in the lead up to his own re-election campaign next year. FIFA must stand up for the values of soccer players and fans around the globe by rejecting Russia as a host country.

I recognize the courage and leadership this action requires of you. I believe that the other nations that bid to host the 2018 World Cup and the United States Soccer Federation would assist in the location of a suitable alternative venue. I look forward to your swift reply to my request. 

                                                            Sincerely,

                                                           Richard Blumenthal