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«No boycott» of 2018 FIFA World Cup, says Polish Sports Minister

After Poland’s Foreign Minister Jacek Czaputowcz declared on Friday being «certain» that Russia was involved in the nerve agent attack on former Russian spy Sergei Skripral in London, Sports Minister Witold Bańka announced that a boycott of the football World Cup in Russia is «not an option» as it would «not be a good solution».

Despite Britain’s Boris Johnson daring a controversial comparison between Putin’s World Cup and Hitler’s Olympics, it looks like Robert Lewandowski’s white and red eagles will be heading to Russia this summer. But, as pointed out by the BBC, it wouldn’t have been the first time that a world cup boycott happened.

Uruguay, for instance, refused to defend its title in Italy in 1934 in protest at the lack of European teams who had traveled to their 1930 inaugural tournament. They were joined in their protest by Argentina for the 1938 World Cup in France.

As odd sporting myths go, India boycotted the 1950 tournament held in Brazil, because they were not allowed to play barefoot. They have never qualified since.

Politics, however, have never been able to remain too far away from the pitch. Turkey, Indonesia, Sudan and Egypt all refused to take part in the qualifying for the 1958 World Cup, refusing to play against Israel, who was still classified as an Asian team at the time.

One of the most notorious boycotts was when all 15 African teams, including Osei Kofi’s promising Ghanaian «Black Stars», withdrew from qualifying for the 1966 World Cup in England in protest against FIFA’s decision to allocate only a single place to Asia, Africa, and Oceania.

And it is not the first time Moscow has been involved in a world cup boycott. At the height of the Cold War, the USSR refused to play its playoff game against Chile in Santiago following the execution of left-wing prisoners in the Santiago stadium after Pinochet’s military coup. The match still kicked off, though, and the Chilean team slowly passed the ball into an empty net. A Kafkaesque scene worthy of the Monty Pythons:

Provided that none of this will happen, the Biało-czerwoni will kick off their World Cup against Sénégal on June 19th, in Moscow.

A political science graduate from the University of Nottingham, Tom Eisenchteter worked for international organisations in South Africa, Thailand and Malaysia before returning to his native France. He now works in the media department of the French Ministry of Defense and is a regular contributor to French media Asialyst.com and the Paris-based think-tank Asia Centre. In 2018, he founds Kafkadesk Media with his brother in Prague.

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