NEWS
29/03/2018 17:14 BST | Updated 29/03/2018 17:17 BST

World Cup 2018 Will Be In Russia - Unless These Lawyers Can Convince Fifa To Move It

Salisbury poisoning spurred attempt at legal action.

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Sashy Nathan, a lawyer who is crowdfunding an attempt to stop Russia holding the World Cup, was spurred into action by recent events.

“The Salisbury attack and the Russian elections happened... no one else seemed to be joining the dots together,” he told HuffPost.

With weeks to go until the tournament, he and his group wants to use a litany of bad behaviour by Russia - the Salisbury poisoning, Vladimir Putin’s fixed re-election, its occupation of the Crimea, its “gay propaganda” laws - to convince Fifa the World Cup should be moved.

The poisoning of former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Salisbury sparked an international incident on the eve of the tournament and prompted calls for the England team to boycott it.

The group of lawyers will use Fifa’s own human rights policy, which it published last year after being rocked by corruption scandals, to argue it must act and stop awarding the world’s biggest sporting events to countries with illiberal, dangerous regimes.

It just needs to raise £10,000 via crowdfunding to do it.

Nathan, a civil rights lawyer, works part-time for campaign group 89up and, after Salisbury, joined forces with professional footballer Bradley Pritchard and barristers Phillippa Kaufmann QC and Jessica Jones, from renowned human rights lawyers Matrix Chambers, to form World In Motion, a new group whose title is partly a tribute to the song New Order recorded for the 1990 World Cup that Nathan said represented “the spirit of a better type of football”.

Nathan says the group does not rule out taking Fifa to the European Court of Human Rights if it refuses to listen.

As well as Russia’s behaviour against other states, the case will include laws and threats in Russia that players and fans could fall foul of, Nathan said.

He pointed out that Fifa was investigating abuse allegedly hurled at black French players when they played Russia in a friendly match on a Tuesday in a St Petersburg stadium that will host the World Cup semi-final.

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France's Paul Pogba plays against Russia on Tuesday in St Petersburg. Fifa is now investigating alleged racial abuse chanted by Russian fans.

Russia has laws prohibiting the promotion of “homosexual behaviour among minors” that can land people with hefty fines.

Last year, the European Court of Human Rights found this law breached the rights to free expression and freedom from discrimination.

It “reinforced stigma and prejudice and encouraged homophobia”, the judges said.

Nathan said this raised issues for those travelling to Russia. “If you’re a gay journalist or a gay football fan. and you decide to wear your rainbow laces one day, are you going to get locked up?,” he said.

Phillippa Kauffmann, one of World In Motion’s barristers, is fresh from her court victory representing two victims of black cab rapist John Worboys, who yesterday won their case against his release from prison.

The group reviewed Russia’s actions since it was awarded the World Cup in 2010. “It is a stunning list of lawless activities, any one of which are arguably sufficient to host Russia’s hosting rights,” Nathan said.

Sputnik Photo Agency / Reuters
FIFA President Gianni Infantino (left) and Russian President Vladimir Putin attend the FIFA World Cup Trophy Tour kick-off ceremony at the Luzhniki Stadium in September 2017

He said they would take official reports and judgments, such as the Dutch Government’s investigation into the loss of MH17 over Ukraine, which accused Russia of supplying the missile system used to shoot the plane down.

Fifa could not plead ignorance on these matters when presented with these conclusions alongside its own human rights policies, Nathan said.

“Until someone presents them with the arguments, they’ll always get away with saying ‘how are we supposed to know?’”

On Friday, the group launched a crowd funder to raise the £10,000 it needs to cover the costs of compiling a dossier of legal arguments to present to the Fifa.

The timing of the campaign makes it doubtful the tournament can be stopped before it kicks off on June 14.

At the time of writing, hours after the crowd funder launched, just £30 had been donated towards the total.

Undeterred, Nathan says “it’s possible” they can stop the tournament being in Russia with enough support, adding we live in “unprecedented times”. 

But the campaign’s focus is on changing Fifa and Uefa’s behaviour permanently, regardless of whether the tournament goes ahead.

Since the Russia and Qatar World Cups were awarded in 2010, Fifa has reeled from a corruption scandal over how it awarded World Cup tournaments that claimed its former president Sepp Blatter, whose downfall is defined by a single image of a comedian throwing a flurry of dollar bills all over him.

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Sepp Blatter surrounded by cash thrown at him by comedian Simon Brodkin

Blatter was deposed and banned from football governance by the organisation’s ethics committee.

Since then, Fifa has strived to redefine itself. Its new human rights policy commits it to “respecting all internationally recognised human rights and striving to promote the protection of these rights”.

Nathan said the case was a “crucial test” of Fifa’s claims to have moved on from the corruption scandal.

“Football fans love football. I don’t think they want to see it going through this level of dirty politics and corruption,” he said.

“You can ask the man in the street. He doesn’t need a law degree or QC after his or her name to think ‘something’s not right here’. We all know something’s not right, it’s just a question of whether we can do something about it.”