Adios Sochi Grand Prix 2014, Russia World Cup 2018?

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in ,,, at 7/22/2014 01:30:00 AM
Geography is against Russia retaining these events without scrutiny.
This is not exactly a pleasant post to write given the circumstances, but it's something that will be the subject of discussion anyway in the coming months and perhaps years. First, as I wrote a few weeks ago, the first Russian Grand Prix is scheduled on the Formula One calendar for October 12. Even as its business elites are preparing for the worst as the full weight of Western sanctions passed (and yet to pass_ disrupt their abilities to conduct business abroad, Russian race organizers are adamant that show must go on:
Organizers insist Russia's first Formula One Grand Prix will go ahead as planned despite an airliner being shot down in the conflict zone in eastern Ukraine.

Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur crashed Thursday in eastern Ukraine. All 298 people on board are believed to have been killed. Ukraine accused pro-Russian separatists of shooting the plane down, something the rebels deny.

The promoters of the Oct. 12 Russian Grand Prix in Sochi told The Associated Press in a statement Friday that "all the preparations are on track and run according to the schedule," and that "organisers are confident that the inaugural Russian Grand Prix will be comfortable for all."
All I can say is that the organizers of the Bahrain Grand Prix were making similar noises prior to the 2011 race being canceled against the backdrop of anti-monarchy protests during the Arab Spring. Self-evidently, the disorder in Sochi's case emanates not from internal turmoil--Chechnya is far away--but from the weight of disapproval from foreign powers-that-be. In motorsports, they reside in Great Britain.. As the graphic above indicates, 7 out of 11 Formula One constructors are headquartered in the UK (never mind that the car brands themselves are "foreign"; their F1 facilities are mainly in the Blighty. 

I am obviously not clairvoyant as to what the culpability of Russia is in the downing of Malaysia Airlines MH17. Nor do I know what Russia's response will be if and when an international body finds the weight of evidence implicates Russia. However, I do know this: if Russia is designated a "state sponsor of terrorism" or something similar that results in severed trade ties as UK Defence Minister Michael Fallon suggests, there is no chance whatsoever that the race will proceed as planned. It will be curtains for the race and much else that is Russian-invested in Europe. Aside from most of the teams being UK-headquartered, commercial sponsors scare easily.
* * * 
Tis sad talking about real generals instead of the Oranje Generaal, but we are where we are.
Next, consider the 2018 World Cup. Unlike the IOC with its Olympic events behind the Iron Curtain--the most memorable being the 1980 Summer Games in Moscow, USSR and the 1984 Winter in Sarajevo, Yugoslavia--there were never any FIFA World Cup events held behind the Iron Curtain. (See this interesting story behind IOC politics during the Cold War.) Obviously, large-scale disapproval of Russian involvement will also torpedo Russia hosting the next World Cup even if it's only 4 years away. Being designated a state sponsor of terror or being taken to the International Criminal Court and the like will scare any sensible commercial sponsor away. 

Russia has also rubbed one of football's powers the wrong way--the Netherlands. With a majority of the passengers aboard MH17 coming from the Netherlands [193/298], it has been deeply affected by current events. That said, the Netherlands also has significant commercial ties with Russia alike many other Western European countries. What to do, then? If Russian involvement is found, then trade ties will probably not be enough to quell Dutch frustrations. For obvious reasons, Dutch input will be crucial in forming the international response to Russia.
And while the disaster has touched so many here, the government is also mindful that Russia is the country’s third-largest trade partner and that business is growing, especially natural gas.
“We are a small country, dependent on our exports, and unlike the United States, we cannot always react from our moral high grounds,” [opposition leader Alexander] Pechtold said. “Still, if it is proven that the Russians have their fingerprints on this horrible event, we cannot look in the other direction.”
Also consider that the Dutch national team is one of football's most famous draws. In Yank-speak, the World Cup without the Netherlands participating is like the Lone Ranger without Tonto. (Sorry Dutch readers; if your team had won at least one World Cup final in three tries, I'd say the World Cup without the Netherlands is like the Simpsons without Bart.) As the worst-affected country, the Netherlands is not a pushover being a NATO member and fielding one of football's most recognizable squads in sporting terms. End result? You can safely conclude that the Dutch will play a significant role in determining the fate of the 2018 Russia World Cup.

UPDATE: The highly reliable Christian Science Monitor explains why EU sanctions will likely be shaped by the Dutch. Also notice how the Russia-aligned rebels are now providing passenger remains to the Dutch.