Maybe sports is the answer to war in Ukraine
The threat of permanent sports ban might motivate Russia's people to act to end the war
Is playing in the World Cup a match for the threat of nuclear war?
What about not playing in the World Cup. Or the Olympics? Ever again.
There’s a debate for the world.
In the international game of poker being played out in Eastern Europe, the war in Ukraine is heading for is one-year anniversary with daily coverage on CNN and MSNBC that allows the world to see sights it should not see in the 21st Century - a full-on invasion of one nation by another.
How the Western World allows this to happen is a good reminder of how World War II happened - a basic commitment to the theory of “well, it’s not us, so we’re happy to support you, England and France, as long as we don’t really have to be involved.” Until we got bombed by Japan.
For CNN and MSNBC, and everyone watching on streaming networks across the world, this theory is good ‘Dirty Laundry’ as Don Henley sang about in 1982. “People love it when you lose, they need dirty laundry.”
It might not be that hard, though, for the Western World to motivate an end to the war without really messing with the commitment of not being directly involved. And relatively quickly, too.
Sports is the answer for the Western World to accomplish this feat without Patriot Missiles or really raising a finger.
What needs to happen is for the Russian people to rise up and motivate the people around Vladimir Putin to revolt and end the war by getting Putin to, say, move to the island of St. Helena. The Western World can provide this motivation through sports - or lack of sports.
What if FIFA, the organization that runs international soccer, just came out and publicly said Russia is out of FIFA and any shot at even qualifying for the World Cup if the war doesn’t end in a month. Permanently out. Russia leaves Ukraine in a month or it’s out of international soccer competitions - forever. Not just until the war ends, but permanently, because the war is that serious.
So, either get out ... or you’re out. Permanently.
What if the International Olympic Committee followed suit with the same demand - the war ends in a month or you’re out - permanently. And then every other international sports organization did the exact same thing. They all told Russia’s leadership - but more importantly its citizens - either go back to being a member of the world that respects the geographic boundaries of its neighbors or you can just be on your own in the sports world. Permanently.
That demand might not be much of a threat to Putin, but the people on the street who dream of being the best in the world in something as meaningless as soccer or the 5,000 meters or a backstroke might think otherwise. Maybe those activities aren’t so meaningless to citizens on Russia’s streets, and combined with an online campaign of marketing what the war is about - basically moving the nation’s geographic boundaries across a territory of bombed out cities so that the nation can ... look bigger on the next Worldle.
What kind of poker hand might that suddenly give Ukraine and the Western World against Putin’s threat of using nuclear weapons?
Now there’s some CNN/MSNBC coverage - will Putin threaten the sports world; essentially the rest of the world; with the use of nuclear weapons so Russia can ... play sports against the very people it’s going to bomb?
“If you kick us out of the World Cup and The Olympics, we’ll bomb every one of you!” Serious?
Economic sanctions haven’t seemed to be much of a distraction for Russia’s people. McDonald’s pulled out of the nation, but Russian entrepreneurs just moved in and took that market up. And, knowing the war is going poorly hasn’t seemed to be much motivation for the vast majority of citizens to rise up. People just Go Fund Me to raise money for their troops to have fresh socks.
But, messing with the sports world? Messing with the dream of traveling the world representing the nation? Messing with the World Cup again?
Ukraine and the rest of the Western World might demand accountability at the same time - so just ending the war isn’t enough, but the immediate goal is for the war to stop. If lack of international sports competitions accomplishes that - even just with threats, then that’s what should happen, promptly.
There is something magical about the soccer tournament that brings the world together every four years for one month of matches. What’s the value of even having the chance to qualify for that tournament worth? How many lives would just that simple demand save?
Putin’s threats of nuclear engagement have kept the rest of the world out of his personal war, because no leader is game enough to call his bluff. Sports is the ace in the hole for those leaders and it’s time to play that.
Cliff is a lifelong resident of Oregon and has four decades of experience as a writer, photographer, videographer, broadcaster and now producer. He's a grad of Benson and the University of Oregon, and publishes Oregonsports.com as well as OSPN, which is scheduled for delivery as a streaming Mobile App in December.