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The Isolation of Sports and Politics

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The disappointment that reverberated around the country when England's 2018 World Cup bid failed emphasises the passion people have for global sporting celebrations. These festivals are as much a commemoration of local culture as much as they are of the sporting elite that participate. While I would've loved a British 2018 tournament I agree with Sepp Blatter's romanticist principles that the World Cup should be hosted around the globe by countries who haven't had the opportunity to thrive in the role of host nation.

While his idealism is admirable the mirage is shattered by the hypocrisy of the sporting authorities who spend millions promoting equality and unity with one hand and with the other feed the deprave persecutors, appeasing them with prestigious hosting rights. The 2014 Winter Olympics and 2018 Fifa World cup in Russia will both be played out against a backdrop of institutional homophobia and government sponsored violence against the LGBT community. While Sochi 2014 is the immediate concern it is simply the latest charade in an ever growing list of erroneous decisions by sporting committees where the human rights record, inherent poverty and endemic discrimination of a nation have been flagrantly ignored.

Recent sporting history has seen many controversial decisions by authorities. Inspite of China's appalling human rights record Bejing 2008 went ahead as planned and likewise Euro 2012 went ahead in Ukraine irrespective of the threats from racist, ultranationalist hooligans. In the future we have the Qatar 2022 world cup to look forward to, where homosexuality is punishable with 5 year imprisonment (if they had had it their way in a recent UN vote punishable by death), not to mention the 3 major upcoming events in Russia and 2 in Rio, where things are especially turbulent due to the mass riots in protest at the extravagant cost of hosting the tournaments while so many go hungry and homeless. There is no crisis too big to ignore by sport's largest governing bodies.

Actually that's not completely fair. While the IOC are still content to pursue the Russian venture the new anti-gay laws have resonated within the committee enough for them to seek transparency on the impact this will have on their athletes and travelling spectators (though whether this includes homosexual Russian spectators is yet to be clarified). According to the IOC Olympic President, Jacques Rogge, "The Olympic charter is very clear...sport is a human right and it should be available to all, regardless of race, sex or sexual orientation and the Games themselves should be open to all, free of discrimination. So our position is very clear." Right now many in Russia are fighting to uphold more important human rights than Rogge's arrogant "right to sport" and despite his unequivocal statement of equality it seems that the Olympic Charter stretches only as far as the athletes and spectators.

These new laws have seen many comparisons made between Putin's Russia and Hitler's Germany of the 1930s and rightly so; we've registered the same harrowing patterns of prejudice but the jury is out as to whether we have learnt from the harsh lessons of the past. The allied forces knew about the persecution Jewish people faced in Germany and they failed to act, they stood by and did nothing. We can see the same discrimination now, yet once again our leaders are failing to act. We have the power to reprimand Putin, to show him that his savage attacks against homosexuals are not acceptable at any level, yet instead we offer only verbal condemnation. Playing sport in Russia's garden while it's government actively champions the grotesque abuse of the LGBT community is a deplorable display of nonchalance and ineptitude by our leaders; it is an insult to all those who are suffering in Russia.

Shortly after awarding Qatar the 2022 World Cup Blatter made similar claims to those made by the IOC about sport's inclusiveness. According to Blatter the statutes of Fifa are adamant that discrimination of any kind would not be tolerated be it in politics or religion. Despite these rigid maxims Blatter has failed; the next two world cups will be hosted by nations who candidly and proudly discriminate against minorities. Just as Putin thrives off of a radicalised public with his marginalisation of homosexuals he capitalises on the success of the World Cup 2018 bid. It may be too late to move the 2014 Winter Olympics, other protest tactics will have to be formulated instead, but there is still plenty of time to punish Putin and take away his prized trophy. Sport does not transcend politics and religion, despite what Blatter thinks, and it is time for the sporting committees, professional sports people and politicians to recognise this; stripping Russia of the 2018 world cup would be a good start.

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