Russia, Soccer and a Line Drawn Too Late

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Everton and Chelsea, for example, have significant financial ties to Russian oligarchs who were named by a British lawmaker this week as suitable targets for sanctions; or Manchester United, studiously quiet on its sponsorship deal with Aeroflot, the state-backed Russian airline, until suddenly dropping it Friday.

Still, what do you expect, when the very bodies who are supposed to represent the game have been so acquiescent? UEFA has, at least, stripped St. Petersburg of this year’s Champions League final, something it has found easier than annulling its own, lucrative sponsorship agreement with Gazprom.

And then, of course, there is FIFA. Oh, FIFA, whose president once accepted a friendship medal from Putin and claimed that the 2018 World Cup had highlighted how wrong the Western perception of the ruthless kleptocracy he presided over had been. On Thursday, that president, Gianni Infantino, did condemn Russia’s “use of force in Ukraine,” though there were times when outright criticism did not seem to come easily.

Even placing those teams, those bodies under scrutiny, though, may still be a touch unfair. The idea that any of these institutions should be expected to have a cogent, considered reaction to a major, unfolding global crisis is, at heart, faintly absurd.

The issues that have driven the world to this point, their underlying causes, their long-term ramifications, are way beyond not only the scope of their expertise — let’s go live, now, to Frank Lampard, for his take on the Minsk accords of 2014 — but the limits of their world.


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