There is no denying that Australians love their football, or soccer, as they like to call it. However, the FIFA World Cup which is being held from the 14 June 2018 to the 15 July 2018 in Russia is drawing more than its fair share of controversy. And this time it has nothing to do with the fans, the players or even the sport in general.
Political Perspective Comes Into Play
The Socceroos’ fans have been advised to think “three times” before flying to Russia to cheer on the game in person. And it’s all because of politics! The diplomatic ties between Russia and Australia are more than a little tense at the moment, due to the attempted assassination of former spry Sergei Skripal in Salisbury, England. But what has it got to do with Australia?
Skripal was a former Russian intelligence officer who acted as a double agent for the UK in the 1990s and early 2000s. Skripal and his daughter Yulia were poisoned by a nerve agent on 4 March 2018, and both survived the assassination attempt. But, despite allegations by the UK and Australian government that it was extremely likely that Russia was responsible for the attack on Skripal and his daughter, Russia, as the FIFA World Cup host nation, denies any involvement in the attempt on both their lives.
Following the nerve agent attack, over 20 countries including Australia, England, France, Germany and the United States have expelled their Russian diplomats in a demonstration of solidarity for the UK – in total, approximately 100 Russian diplomats. Russia responded by expelling 60 foreign diplomats from 23 countries, including two from Australia.
Australian Government Takes a Hard Stance on Travel to Russia
In view of the tense political situation, the Australian Government has urged fans intending to travel to Russia for the FIFA World Cup to exercise a high degree of caution. The latest warnings which were added to the Government website on 31 March 2018 state, “Due to heightened political tensions, you should be aware of the possibility of anti-Western sentiment or harassment.”
Will this stop the hardened soccer fans from supporting their beloved team in Russia? Probably not!
The official word from the Government is to “remain vigilant, avoid any protests or demonstrations and avoid commenting publicly on political developments.” They also state, “While the Australian Government is not aware of any increased difficulties for Australians traveling in Russia at this time, you should follow the security and political situation closely and keep up to date with this travel advice.”
The truth of the matter is, however, that most of the Socceroos’ fans probably couldn’t care one way or another about the political unrest between the two nations. And by the time the FIFA World Cup kicks off in Russia in just a couple of months, they will probably have forgotten about it anyway.
We can be confident that many of the British government ministers and members of the Royal Family, regardless of how much they enjoy the game of soccer, will not be in attendance. British Prime Minister Theresa May has said that the relationship between England and Russia “cannot be the same” and as a Commonwealth country, it is Australia’s duty to follow suit.
The FIFA World Cup will take place in more than ten cities across Russia including Moscow, St Petersburg, Kazan, Sochi, and Volgograd. The three games most pertinent to the Socceroos’ fans are the matches on 16 June in Kazan against France, 21 June in Samara against Denmark and 26 June in Sochi against Peru.
If the Australian team, the Socceroos, qualify for Round 16, additional matches will be held in Kazan on 30 June or Nizhny Novgorod on 1 July. The FIFA World Cup finals will then commence in Russia on the 6 July.
That’s if the Australian government does not impose an enforced withdrawal of the Socceroos and ban them from participating altogether. This was one of the rumored ‘further actions’ that was being thrown around by the Australian Government if one was to read between the lines in the recent headlines.
Will the Australian Government Force A Boycott?
If, and it is a big if at this stage, the government decides to pull the Socceroos out altogether and boycott the game, there will be a lot of disappointed fans – over 15,000 if the last count was anything to go by! Although on the 27 March 2018, Julia Bishop, Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs declared on Twitter, “That is wrong - the government is not considering a boycott of the #World Cup.”
This will definitely be a big relief to the fans who have already purchased their soccer tickets, and to the Socceroos as well, who will still get a chance to wear their yellow away kit which gives more than just a slight nod back to the 90s with the patterned shoulders.
Fans Don’t Seem Discouraged By Political Events
As the 2018 draw has given the Socceroos their best chance of progression since 2006, the fans are eager to see it all play out.
Their aims are high with at least a win against Peru and a draw against Denmark, although most fans are erring on the side of caution when it comes to betting on a win against France. With France ranked 9th in the world, and the Australian team at 39th place, it might be a tall order.
Australian soccer fans are generally as excited as ever about the upcoming games.
It seems that if the mention of ‘Russian soccer hooligans’ in the headlines in early March did not put them off attending the matches, then talks of Russian spies, nerve agents and assassination attempts will do nothing to dampen their spirits. I
t’s a long way from the world of a day-in-a-life of a Socceroos’ fan after all!
As of March 2018, 16,000 tickets had been purchased by Australians with the Australia-Peru match being the most popular out of the three original games.
Put it this way, if soccer fans are willing to travel thousands of miles, not to mention part with thousands of dollars in the process, to watch their favorite team in action, then nothing including a bit of political unrest, will stop them!