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Senate Hawks Want a FIFA President Who’s Less Into Russia

Their main complaint: Swiss-born Blatter’s support for Russia’s hosting of the 2018 FIFA World Cup, “despite Russia’s ongoing violations of Ukraine’s territorial integrity.”

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Americans may have come late to the soccer (football, properly speaking) craze that’s long gripped the rest of the world, but now that they’ve begun taking it up, they seem to care a lot about its politics.

On Tuesday, U.S. Senators Bob Menendez and John McCain urged the Fédération Internationale de Football Association, better known as FIFA, to withdraw its support for incumbent Sepp Blatter to serve a fifth term as the organization’s president. Their main complaint: Swiss-born Blatter’s support for Russia hosting the 2018 FIFA World Cup, “despite Russia’s ongoing violations of Ukraine’s territorial integrity.”

Ahead of FIFA’s presidential elections on Friday, the Democrat from New Jersey and the Republican from Arizona write that “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.”

Americans may have come late to the soccer (football, properly speaking) craze that’s long gripped the rest of the world, but now that they’ve begun taking it up, they seem to care a lot about its politics.

On Tuesday, U.S. Senators Bob Menendez and John McCain urged the Fédération Internationale de Football Association, better known as FIFA, to withdraw its support for incumbent Sepp Blatter to serve a fifth term as the organization’s president. Their main complaint: Swiss-born Blatter’s support for Russia hosting the 2018 FIFA World Cup, “despite Russia’s ongoing violations of Ukraine’s territorial integrity.”

Ahead of FIFA’s presidential elections on Friday, the Democrat from New Jersey and the Republican from Arizona write that “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.”

“The next president of FIFA has a responsibility to ensure not only a safe and successful 2018 World Cup, but the endurance of the FIFA mission that claims to promote football ‘globally in the light of its unifying, educational, cultural, and humanitarian values,’” the senators write. “We strongly encourage you to elect a president who will uphold these values and work to deny the Putin regime the privilege of hosting the 2018 World Cup.

There are plenty of reasons to oppose Sepp Blatter’s fifth term for president, from his support of Qatar’s hosting of the 2022 World Cup despite its rampant abuses of workers to allegations of FIFA corruption in awarding the tournament’s location.

But it’s not surprising that well-known foreign-policy hawks McCain and Menendez are especially riled up about Sepp’s apparent acquiescence to Russia hosting the World Cup. McCain has been vocal about his support for Ukraine’s anti-Russia movement since its birth, while Menendez’s push for sanctions against Russia last year got him, along with McCain and a handful of other lawmakers, banned from visiting the country. Both Senators previously signed a similar letter of protest to Blatter himself in April.

That letter didn’t seem to make much of an impression, and it’s far from sure that this one will score any of its goals, either.

ANDREAS SOLARO,ANDREAS SOLARO/AFP/Getty Images

Justine Drennan was a fellow at Foreign Policy. She previously reported from Cambodia for the Associated Press and other outlets. Twitter: @jkdrennan

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