FOR those of us of a certain age، having the opportunity to see Red Square up close and personal takes us back to a different time.
Growing up in the Cold War era، the long boulevard was synonymous with the yearly parade of Soviet military might.
Leonid Brezhnev، Yuri Andropov، and ultimately، Mikhail Gorbachev، all stood atop Lenin’s Mausoleum - remaining stony-faced as a frightening array of missiles، tanks and soldiers filed past.
It was an annual signal to the west (and America in particular)، that the Eastern Bloc possessed an arsenal more than capable of matching anything the “free world” had to offer. Going back even earlier، the great superpowers came perilously close to putting their vast stockpiles into action in the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962، but the fall of communism (and the break up of the Soviet Union) in 1991 brought that era to a close — we thought it would never return.
Yet it seems we are on the brink of a new Cold War - more intricate، and confusing than the one that went before. But one thing remains the same - sport، whether it likes it or not، has a big part to play. In the Soviet era، sport was seen as a demonstration of the superiority of the communist regime، and the hosting of major events a chance to showcase the country.
The 1980 Olympics، held in Moscow، represented a major flash point in the days of the Cold War، with the Americans leading a boycott of 66 nations، in protest at the situation in Afghanistan، which had been invaded by the Soviets in 1979. Australia competed، but made its protest by competing under the Olympic flag.
In the modern day، it’s the world’s favourite game that has become the biggest political football — and it was telling that the Russian President، Vladimir Putin، was seated next to FIFA supremo Gianni Infantino at the opening match at the Luzhniki Stadium.
Camera shots showed them deep in conversation throughout Russia’s easy 5-0 win over Saudi Arabia - with Putin (not much of a football fan by all accounts)، barely bothering to celebrate the Russians’ first goal، instead offering a mere shrug to his opposite number، the Saudi Crown Prince، Mohammed bin Salman. Whether the Russians won the hosting fair and square is impossible to know - the only investigation into the murky 2010 process (the Garcia report) was hamstrung by it’s lack of power to subpoena، and the Russians rather flimsy excuse that all the computers containing their World Cup data had been on loan، and had since been returned and destroyed. All rather convenient.
In any case، the hoo-ha over Qatar overshadowed Russia’s success، and the fact the USA (along with Mexico & Canada) have been awarded the 2026 event underlines just how much politics (and money) dominates the awarding of World Cups. After all، in pure football terms، we’re not exactly venturing into the hotbeds of the game.
For example، Russia hasn’t qualified from the group in four attempts since the breakup of the Soviet Union. Qatar has never even competed at a World Cup، while the USA and Canada’s involvement in this years finals started and finished with their successful bid. Only Mexico can be considered an honourable exception، having last missed the finals back in 1990.Still، this is the way of the world in 2018، and the way of football in particular.
European club football has become a soft power battle between the moneyed nations of the Middle East، the Far East and the Americans.
FIFA President Infantino، meantime، has staked his tenure on delivering big financial returns for his electorate، and the expansion of the World Cup to 48 teams from 2026 means it is unlikely medium-sized nations (or those of modest financial means) will host the tournament in the foreseeable future. At least not as a stand-alone host.
Where do we fit into all this? The answer is، we don’t really.
Yet even in Australia، you could argue that the global geopolitical landscape is reflected in the current ongoing (and interminable) battle between FFA (led by the Lowy family، who happen to be Jewish)، and the A-League clubs، who are being steered by the Emirati-backed City Football Group. Where to next for the game? It’s not too difficult to predict.
Only last week، AFC ditched their longstanding agreement with marketing group، Lagardere (who have held their commercial rights since 1993) to sign up with DDMC and Fortis، companies who hail from China، and Infantino’s native Switzerland. The eight-year deal is worth a reported $4 billion.
With Chinese President، Xi Jinping، pumping money into football like it’s going out of fashion، it surely won’t be too long before we see a World Cup being held in the far east.