UK officials think Putin will use World Cup 'like Hitler used Olympics,' call for boycott

Multiple British officials called for a boycott of the 2018 World Cup in Russia on Wednesday, comparing the tournament to Adolf Hitler’s 1936 Olympics. (REUTERS)

British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson compared the upcoming World Cup in Russia to Adolf Hitler’s 1936 Olympic games on Wednesday.

Speaking to the British Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Select Committee, Johnson was agreeing with the Labour Party’s Ian Austin, who first brought up the comparison to the games and even called for England to pull out of the tournament.

“I think the comparison to 1936 is certainly right,” Johnson said. “I think it’s an emetic prospect, frankly, to think of (Russian President Vladimir) Putin glorying in this sporting event.”

Germany hosted both the Summer and Winter Olympics in 1936, just three years after Hitler and the Nazi Party gained power in Germany. Hitler used the games as a propaganda tool, in an attempt to project the image both the world and his own people of a new, strong and unified Germany. He also attempted to ban Jewish and nonwhite athletes, however gave up after threats of a boycott grew too large.

Putin, both Austin and Johnson agreed, is determined to show the world that Russia is “strong again” and deserves to be “taken seriously again — at any price.”

“I think Vladimir Putin feels that Russia lost out, so he wants to cause trouble wherever he can,” Johnson said. “His principle audience for this is not us, it’s his domestic audience who want, after what they see as all these humiliations, who want to feel that Russia is strong again.”

While Austin thinks that England should Boycott the games, Johnson disagreed, saying it would be harmful both to the fans — including the 24,000 fans who have applied for Visas to attend the games in Russia — and the national team.

“It would be incredibly unfair to punish (fans) or the  team who have worked on this for an incredibly long time,” Johnson said, who also said he needs to have an “urgent conversation” with Russia about how British fans in attendance will be protected.

Both Johnson and Austin’s comments come in the wake of the poisoning of a former Russian spy and his daughter in Salisbury, England, earlier this month — which Johnson said it was “overwhelmingly likely” that Putin personally ordered the nerve agent attack.

UK Prime Minister Theresa May also announced last week that members of the government and royal family will not be attending the World Cup.

Russian Deputy Prime Minister and chairman of the Local Organizing Committee Arkady Dvorkovich responded to those calling for a boycott on Wednesday, saying it is “senseless” to do so.

“This will be the best world championship ever. Our country is very hospitable, and we are waiting for everyone here,” Dvorkovich told the Russian News Agency TASS.

“If some officials refuse coming here, it is their personal business. The history shows that boycotts never lead to something good. All national teams want to play and football fans want to be here. We will imply maximum efforts to see that everyone is extremely satisfied with the world championship.”

The World Cup begins on June 14 and will run through July 15, and is scheduled to be held in 11 different cities across Russia.

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