John McCain Wants FIFA to Take the World Cup Away From Russia

 FIFA President Sepp Blatter, left, and Russian President Vladimir Putin are seen during the official ceremony of handover to Russia as the 2018 World Cup hosts in Brazil last summer. FIFA President Sepp Blatter, left, and Russian President Vladimir Putin are seen during the official ceremony of handover to Russia as the 2018 World Cup hosts in Brazil last summer. Alexei Nikolsky/RIA-Novosti/AP

Sens. John McCain and Robert Menendez want the world's governing soccer organization to fire its president and elect one who will take the World Cup away from Vladimir Putin's Russia.

FIFA, the organization that governs the World Cup, is holding leadership elections Friday, and President Sepp Blatter is expected to win a fifth term at the top. But McCain and Menendez are calling on the body's congress to pick a different leader, one who will undo the Blatter-led decision to award the 2018 tournament to Russia.

Russia's ongoing military aggression toward Ukraine, McCain and Menendez say, should disqualify it from hosting. "More than a year has passed since Russian troops and Russian-backed separatists began their dismemberment of Ukraine," the pair wrote Tuesday in a letter to members of FIFA's Congress. "By allowing Russia to host the tournament, FIFA would offer an economic lifeline to the Putin regime in contravention of the multilateral sanctions that have been imposed by the international community."

Russia is on something of a roll in winning bids for international sporting events, having hosted the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi—which came just weeks before the military run on Ukraine.

McCain and Menendez join a host of voices calling for Blatter's removal, though much of the criticism has centered around the decision to award the 2022 World Cup to Qatar. Critics have noted Qatar's poor record on workers' rights, expressing fear that the workers tasked with building the host country's stadiums will die—and already are dying—in alarming numbers due to poor working conditions. There also are widespread allegations of bribery and other corruption in the run-up to the selection.

(Last year, I wrote a piece noting that while FIFA's bylaws ban discrimination in soccer on the basis of race, religion, nationality, and "sexual orientation," the group awarded the next two World Cups to countries where lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender individuals face state-sanctioned persecution.)

But despite his critics, Blatter is expected to win a fifth term. Prince Ali Bin Al Hussein of Jordan is running against Blatter, but appears to lack the support needed to overcome the incumbent. Each of the 209 FIFA member associations gets one vote.

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