World Cup should not be held in Russia, Nick Clegg says

Fifa president Sepp Blatter (L) with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Brazil (13 July 2014) Image copyright AP
Image caption Fifa president Sepp Blatter met Russian leader Vladimir Putin at the World Cup in Brazil

Russia should lose the right to host the 2018 World Cup as part of tougher sanctions following the plane crash in eastern Ukraine, Nick Clegg has said.

The UK deputy prime minister told the Sunday Times it was "unthinkable" that Russia should host the football event.

Pro-Russian separatist rebels have been accused of shooting down the Malaysia Airlines jet. Russia has suggested it could have been the Ukraine military.

World football governing body Fifa has rejected calls to change the 2018 host.

Responding after some German politicians also called for Russia to be boycotted, Fifa said the 2018 tournament could be a "force for good".

Image copyright AFP
Image caption The BBC's Ross Hawkins said there was "no indication yet" of the PM backing Mr Clegg's World Cup call

Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 was on its way from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur when it crashed in eastern Ukraine on 17 July, killing all 298 people on board.

Western nations have accused Russia of arming rebels who allegedly shot down the plane, which Moscow denies.

On Friday the EU extended its sanctions list targeting Russians linked to the separatist uprising, taking the number of individuals and entities subject to asset freezes and travel bans past 100.

World status

Mr Clegg said a package of measures was needed to put pressure on Russia, but the threat of withdrawing the World Cup would be "a very potent political and symbolic sanction".

"If there's one thing that Vladimir Putin cares about, as far as I can see, it's his sense of status," he said.

"Maybe reminding him that you can't retain the same status in the world if you ignore the rest of the world, maybe that will have some effect on his thinking."

A Downing Street spokesman said the prime minister "does not believe we should reach immediately for boycotts", but said it was "not surprising, given Russian behaviour, that people are starting to raise the issue".

"It shows the importance of Russia changing course, before its international standing is damaged even further," the spokesman said.

In response, Fifa repeated a statement it released last week following calls by a leading German MP, Michael Fuchs, for Russia to be stripped of the World Cup.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Mr Clegg said stripping Russia of the World Cup would be a "potent" sanction

Fifa said the World Cup could be a "powerful catalyst for constructive dialogue between people and governments, helping to bring positive social developments".

"Fifa believes this will be the case for the 2018 Fifa World Cup in Russia," it added.

'Ugly aggression'

However, Mr Clegg said world leaders would look "so weak and so insincere" if the World Cup was allowed to go ahead in Russia without a change of course from President Putin.

"Vladimir Putin himself has to understand that he can't have his cake and eat it," the Liberal Democrat leader said.

"He can't constantly... push the patience of the international community beyond breaking point, destabilise a neighbouring country, protect these armed separatists in the east of Ukraine and still have the privilege and honour of receiving all the accolades in 2018 for being the host nation of the World Cup."

He added: "You can't have this - the beautiful game marred by the ugly aggression of Russia on the Russian-Ukrainian border."

Image copyright AP
Image caption Brazil hosted the 2014 World Cup

Mr Clegg also said Russia should not host a Grand Prix in October, but Formula 1 boss Bernie Ecclestone has said it will go ahead as planned.

Mr Clegg did not rule out the UK as a potential alternative host for 2018 - saying the country had the required stadiums, infrastructure and "enthusiasm".

But he said his call was not a "British land grab to snatch the World Cup from under Vladimir Putin's nose".

Douglas Alexander, Labour's shadow foreign secretary, said Fifa should reconsider whether Russia was "fit" to host the 2018 World Cup if proof emerged it had "direct responsibly for downing flight MH17".

"Fifa should therefore be undertaking contingency planning now so that, if required, alternative plans are in place in plenty of time for teams and fans from around the world", he said.

BBC political correspondent Ross Hawkins said Mr Clegg's comments were "another example of increasingly strident diplomatic language" from the UK over Russia.

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