March 13 – When British foreign secretary Boris Johnson first raised the notion of England boycotting this summer’s World Cup in protest at what has been dubbed spy-gate, he was roundly condemned and his office was quick to issue a clarification saying he meant officials and politicians rather than the team itself.
But prime minister Theresa May’s confirmation that a military-grade nerve agent of a type developed solely by Russia was used to poison a former double agent on British soil has raised the stakes and thrown World Cup participation back into the mix in terms of how Britain will respond.
Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia were admitted to hospital on March 4 and remain in a critical condition and May has given Moscow until midnight tonight to come up with a credible explanation after telling parliament the government “has concluded it is highly likely that Russia was responsible” for the attempted murder of Skripal and his daughter.
Given Russian officials have already described May’s remarks as a “circus show” it is highly unlikely Moscow will provide a satisfactory response by the deadline imposed.
While that seems likely to prompt the expulsion of Russian diplomats from Britain, a possible boycott of the World Cup is being reported in some circles as another option being privately considered. Some British reports are claiming FA president Prince William has already been advised not to attend the event.
Tom Tugendhat, chairman of the Foreign Affairs select committee, is one who believes the case for an England World Cup boycott should be examined.
Tugendhat said it was “extraordinary” the World Cup was being held “in a country that used murder as an instrument of state policy” and said “a boycott should be kept on the table”.
Pulling England out of the World Cup is unlikely to find favour with FIFA or the majority of fans, however, while it is hard to see how other nations who have qualified would follow suit in support.
Tugendhat warned that if such an option is not exercised, travelling English fans will need to be careful of a Russian backlash. “I’m afraid the danger of Russia responding to British fans for actions taken by their Government is all too real,” he said.
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