Arsenal, that venerable London soccer team, has advanced to the quarterfinals of the Europa League championship. The Europa League is the second-tier European club competition, behind the Champions League. For almost two decades, Arsenal played in the Champions League every season. However, with the club in modest decline, this is its second consecutive season in Europa. [Correction, its first]
Winning the Europa League would do more than add another trophy for the Gunners. It would guarantee them a place in the Champions League next Fall and go a ways towards salvaging what for Arsenal is a poor season.
Arsenal is joined in the final eight by half a dozen more than respectable sides. However, it has as good a chance of winning the competition of any team left, other than Atletico Madrid (Everton, which is not in the same class as any of the eight, was eliminated months ago).
Here’s a problem, though. Arsenal has been drawn to play its quarterfinal match against CSKA Moscow. This, just after Russia stands accused of poisoning two ex-pats in London. In response, Britain has expelled two dozen Russian diplomats and is considering other retaliatory measures.
There are some who say Arsenal should refuse to journey to Moscow to play CSKA (the official team of the army in Soviet times). The argument for refusing isn’t entirely political. Given the sour relations between Russia and Britain, there are genuine concerns about protecting Arsenal fans from Russian thugs.
But here’s another problem. Russia will host the World Cup in a few months. England has qualified.
If Arsenal boycotts its Europa League match, England should also boycott the World Cup. But English fans are too masochistic to accept passing up another chance to crash out of that extravaganza.
Arsenal will go to Moscow. England will go to Russia.
Russia’s hosting of the World Cup creates a dilemma for me. FIFA, the horribly corrupt body that runs international soccer, should never have awarded the World Cup to Putin’s Russia. But it did. Should I watch the competition? Should I write about it?
I have decided to watch but not to write (sorry John). Writing might, to a tiny degree, help promote the event. I don’t want to do that.
But there won’t be many more World Cups in my lifetime and the next one will be played in the desert and (I think) with an inflated field. So I plan to watch this one.
I might change my mind, though. The temptation to write a post or two about the World Cup may overcome me. At the other extreme, I might become too disgusted with Russia to watch at all.
Ironically, England came second in the running to host the 2018 World Cup. The award to Russia was likely the result of bribery, the standard operating procedure of both FIFA and Russia (at least FIFA hasn’t poisoned anyone, though allegations of death threats have swirled around legal proceedings against former FIFA officials).
Soccer is far from the only sport rife with corruption, but I put it at the top of my list. Certainly, its intersection with the corrupting influence of international politics is second to none.