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Where politics disunites, football unites

By News Express on 21/07/2018

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 “In praise of football” would have been the most appropriate heading of this reflection.

However, the realisation of the global symbolism of July 16 meeting in Helsinki, Finland, of two great world leaders - Russia and the United States of America - compelled a deeper introspection of the thematic area.

There are obviously four dominant issues that would play out in any conversation between the world powers from the East and West. These issues revolve around such phenomenal nations of China, Britain in addition to the duo of Russia and the United States of America.

Whereas the United States, under the current political formation headed by the Republican, Donald Trump, is at war with China on issues of trades, the British and Russian political divides are torn apart by the diplomatic warfare that escalated with the recent alleged poisoning of the double agent and his daughter, somewhere inside of the United Kingdom. 

A logical fall-out from that initial hullabaloo over the suspected Russian poisoning gambit inside of UK is that someone has actually died from the poisoning.

In fact, the media in the USA has linked the spies from Russia with both the poisoning incident in Britain and the attempted hacking into the campaign data of the Democrats in the US during the last election. It would be recalled that Hilary Clinton and her campaign team have been up in arms against President Donald Trump over suspected infiltration of the Russians through cybercrime during the campaigns that heralded the election. 

Many top appointees of Trump have fallen by the wayside, as a result of an independent probe of this Russian nexus in the election that took place that brought in the current political family that run the White House. 

So, the twists and turns in all of these controversies about the Russians have become expanded to involve an incident that happened in the United Kingdom in which spies affiliated to President Vladimir Putin are the suspects. 

This interesting nexus constituted the kernel of the news report done by The New York Times recently (exactly on July 15, 2018).

According to The New York Times, the same Russian military intelligence service now accused of disrupting the 2016 presidential election in America may also be responsible for the nerve agent attack in Britain against a former Russian spy: an audacious poisoning that led to a geopolitical confrontation this spring between Moscow and the West.

The newspaper reported that the British investigators believe the March 4 attack on the former spy, Sergei V Skripal, and his daughter, Yulia, was most probably carried out by current or former agents of the service, known as the GRU, who were sent to his home in southern England, according to one British official, one American official and one former American official familiar with the inquiry, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence.

The New York Times reports that British officials are now closing in on identifying the individuals they believe carried out the operation, according to the former American official. At the same time, investigators have not ruled out the possibility that another Russian intelligence agency, or a privatised spinoff, could be responsible.

Recall that President Trump and President Vladimir Putin of Russia held a much-scrutinised meeting on Monday, July 16, 2018, in Helsinki.

According to The New York Times for months, Mr Trump has angrily belittled the special counsel investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election.  Trump has also blamed those media houses he erroneously categorised as purveyors of “fake news” for spreading falsehoods against him.

The newspaper - known for being hyper-critical of the Trump's administration and his style - had recalled with relish that on Friday, July 13, the Justice Department announced a bombshell indictment of 12 GRU officers in the hacking of internal communications of the Democratic National Committee and the Clinton presidential campaign. 

However, so far Trump hasn't directly been linked as a beneficiary of the spy job carried out by Russia in the wake of the heated campaigns in the year 2016 presidential election in the world's strongest democracy. 

Ironically, the diplomatic verbal warfare between Britain and Russia escalated only a few days to the commencement of the just-ended world cup, which was hosted by Russia. Understandably, football may have mediated a softer approach at using diplomacy to resolve hot political discord. 

In the wake of the poisoning incident in Britain, the British government successfully lobbied the European Union and the United States on the need to take steps to sanction Russia for committing what is now regarded by Theresa May of Britain as an act of aggression by Russia against the United Kingdom. Several members of the European Union were sympathetic to the British viewpoint and followed this sympathy with numerous diplomatic expulsions. Donald Trump shocked his pessimistic critics when his administration sacked 60 Russian spies away from the US over the alleged poisoning incident in Great Britain. 

Also, Britain ruled out any top-level participation at the World Cup in Russia by her politicians as a way of remonstrating and protesting with and against Putin, over the alleged indiscretion of attacking persons within the borders of the UK by security forces in Russia. 

At a point, before the World Cup in Russia, the media went to town with stories of possible security threats during the World Cup. Yours truly was in the United Kingdom on a two-week holiday, just before the World Cup. So, I followed up the media coverage of these fears and apprehensions that if Russia can export poisonous chemicals to hunt down political opponents of the powerful Russian leader it, therefore, follows that football fans are not safe in Russia during the Mundial.

There were existential fears that some nations that qualified to participate in the soccer fiesta in Russia would withdraw, but as hours turned to days, it became clear that no team will risk the sanction by FIFA to play political gambling with football, which is generally viewed as being higher in value than mere mundane politics. 

Football teams from around the world that qualified, indeed, participated. Even top leaders of European politics whose national teams qualified participated, including the just dethroned winner - Germany.

A full list of qualifiers for the 21st FIFA World Cup can be found below:

UEFA (EuropequalifiedRussia (host), Belgium, Germany, England, Spain, Poland, Iceland, Serbia, France, Portugal, Switzerland, Croatia, Sweden, Denmark. Among the eliminated: Czech Republic, Norway, Israel, Hungary, Turkey, Ukraine, Netherlands, Greece, Italy, Ireland; AFC (Asia) qualified: Iran, South Korea, Japan, Saudi Arabia, Australia. Among the Eliminated: Uzbekistan, China, United Arab Emirates, Iraq, Thailand, Qatar, Syria; CAF (Africaqualified: Nigeria, Egypt, Senegal, Tunisia, Morocco. Among the eliminated: Cameroon, Algeria, Guinea, Libya, Congo, Zambia, Uganda, Ghana, South Africa; CONCACAF (North Americaqualified: Mexico, Costa Rica, Panama. Among the eliminated: United States, Canada, Honduras, El Salvador, Trinidad & Tobago, Haiti, Jamaica, Guatemala; CONMEBOL (South Americaqualified: Brazil, Uruguay, Argentina, Colombia, Peru. Among the Eliminated: Bolivia, Venezuela, Ecuador, Chile, Paraguay.

At the end of the Mundial, the general opinion of most observers is that the Russians delivered to the world one of the best World Cup tournaments in history. 

President Putin, the strong-man of Russian politics, has invariably scored a major diplomatic goal by staging one of the most hospitable soccer fiestas of modern times. 

Even stranded fans from Nigeria are being airlifted, courtesy of a Russian non-governmental organisation. This is contrary to the claims just before the kick-off of the tournament that Russians are xenophobic. 

To underscore the feat attained by staging the event, Russian football has dramatically gained global reputation because of the fantastic standards of participation the players displayed, which saw them crossing to quarter-finals mileage that football giants like Germany and Argentina couldn't attain. All African footballing nations that qualified lost out at the preliminary, even when a largely Black-dominated French team eventually won the World Cup against the highly-motivated and cared for Croatia. 

In addition to the phenomenal performance of the Russian soccer team, Mr Gianni Infantino, President of the Federation of International Football (FIFA), was full of praises for Russia.

Speaking at FIFA’s closing press conference after the four-week event, Infantino said: “For a couple of years, I was saying this would be the best World Cup ever. Today, I can say it with more conviction, because I lived it and you lived it. It is the best World Cup ever.”

Also, British fans who had expressed anxieties over security concerns regarding the World Cup started trooping in to watch the competition, when news reached them that contrary to the insinuations in the political firmaments of Britain that there could be security concerns, the World Cup in Russia went on for four weeks without a single violence.

Football has, indeed, successfully deflated the atmospheres of fears and tensions that were generated by the alleged indiscretion of the Russian security, to embark on the deadly assignment of poisoning a big enemy of the Russian leader, who has, in any event, denied involvement. 

But the fall-out has also denied the owner of Chelsea FC of his right of residency, because of his friendship with Putin. British Home Office failed to renew the five-year residency of the Russian oligarch who owns Chelsea FC of England and considerable huge assets in Great Britain. 

Today, President Putin has put on a smiling face of a great football organiser.

The fact that the World Cup was a big success, and the physical presence of the French leader, Mr Emmanuel Macron - at the finals of the Mundial which his country won - has also added more distinguished medals of diplomatic honour for the Russian leader, who would meet the united states leader over several global issues, including international security, climate change, among others.

Incidentally, China, which has an ongoing trade war with Trump’s administration, did not qualify for the just-ended World Cup, but statistically, the Chinese turned up in great numbers to watch most of the matches in Russia.

It is educative to let us know that the Chinese League is rich and attractive to many talented footballers. Some of the top players of the Nigerian national team are plying their trades in the Chinese League. 

It would, however, seem that the logical consequences of the successes recorded at the Russian-hosted World Cup have started to emerge, with Donald Trump firing the first welcoming salvo for Putin.

Mr Trump took to Twitter to lay the blame for the rocky relationship with Russia not with Moscow, but with Washington. (www.news.com.au).

“Our relationship with Russia has never been worse, thanks to many years of United States' foolishness and stupidity and, now, the Rigged Witch Hunt,” he said; referring to US Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller’s probe into alleged Russian meddling in the US elections.

In another tweet, he said he was looking forward to meeting Mr Putin, and complained he would not get enough credit if the summit was a success.

“Unfortunately, no matter how well I do at the summit, if I was given the great city of Moscow as retribution for all the sins and evils committed by Russia over the years, I would return to criticism that it wasn’t good enough,” he said.

A notable non-qualifier to the Mundial in Russia is the US and it would have been interesting if the national team of the United States of America had participated to glamourise the ongoing global conversations by Britain, Russia and the US. 

Had an unlikely scenario of USA or England reaching the finals against Russia happened, perhaps, the world would have seen President Trump participating live in Russia or Theresa May attending to cheer on their respective teams, irrespective of the ongoing political war between and among them. 

Closer home, this writer wishes to ask the incompetent persons running the nation’s Sports ministry to leave the Nigerian Football Federation alone to save Nigeria from the imminent hammer from FIFA.

A way out is for President Muhamadu Buhari to name Mr Chris Giwa as the Minister of State (Youth Development) so he could be politically settled, to remove his over-ambitious eyes from the Glass House, so FIFA does not suspend us from participating in global football events, which is the only uniting phenomenon left in our tattered, politically distorted and disunited Nigeria. 

This footballing task is urgent. Please, someone with the influence within the un-elected cabal running Aso Rock should lobby them to compel President Buhari to save our football. 

•RIGHTSVIEW appears on Wednesdays and Saturdays, in addition to special appearances. The Columnist, a popular activist (www.huriwanigeria.com, www.emmanuelonwubiko.com), is a former Federal Commissioner of Nigeria’s National Human Rights Commission and presently National Coordinator of Human Rights Writers’ Association of Nigeria (HURIWA).

Source News Express

Posted 21/07/2018 08:44:55 AM

 

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