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Bernard Ingham: Why England shouldn’t be taking part in Putin’s World Cup of shame

Will Vladimir Putin be the World Cup's real winner?
Will Vladimir Putin be the World Cup's real winner?
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Let me set out my credentials for commenting on the football World Cup which starts in Moscow tomorrow.

I have been mad on sport for as long as I can remember. I played a lot of football – mostly in clogs before grammar school required proper boots, dubbin and all.

I support Halifax Town, Burnley and Crystal Palace where, along with my family and a neighbour, I had a seat in the stand until I could no longer climb up four flights of stairs.

I covered rugby league for this newspaper for 10 years, am a late convert to rugby union and now have to make do with reading the latest Yorkshire and Test scores since live cricket has disappeared from terrestrial television.

Against this background, I am profoundly ashamed that England is competing in Vladimir Putin’s benefit matches. Indeed, a World Cup in Russia under Putin is a fundamental political and diplomatic mistake.

Where have we put our pity for the thousands imprisoned or eliminated because they oppose the Putin regime?

Don’t we mind any more that the Kremlin tries to bump off “enemies of the state” on our soil after the poisoning of the Skripals in Salisbury and (fatally) Alexander Litvinenko in London, to name only two cases?

Where is our outrage over the annexation of the Crimea, the border war in Eastern Ukraine and the Russians shooting down the MH17 airliner over 
the Ukraine in 2014, killing all 298 on board?

Do we think that sanctions and visa inconvenience for Putin’s oligarch cronies will deter him from probing his Western border with Europe or from testing UK defences?

I can just about understand why our Government has failed to give a decisive lead on a World Cup boycott. It has to live with some rotten regimes and, to take Syria as an example, where Russia is complicit in wholesale murder, we do not know what ogre might follow President Assad.

As if to prove football is not exactly mainstream America, President Donald Trump now wants Russia readmitted to what then would be the G8 group of leading nations.

The EU is so wet that it declines to pay even its whack for its NATO defence.

As for the corrupt FIFA and our football authorities, they would not recognise a principle at five yards. The FA/Football League, for example, did not see 1980s’ hooliganism as their problem but as that of “society”.

I know because I am proud to have fought alongside Margaret Thatcher and then Sports Minister Colin Moynihan to make football safer for families in the 
face of their intransigence.

In the light of all this, it seems unfair to expect England’s players to stand up for common decency. They covet a winner’s medal, however unlikely we think they will get one.

But they are earning enough to last a lifetime and could well afford to sit this tournament out. We could have minted a World Cup boycott medal that they could have shown with honour for the rest of their lives instead of their tattoos.

Sadly, this politically correct world no longer takes a stand. It compromises all down the line – or at least did until Trump began to run riot on Twitter – as Europe’s open doors to immigration shows.

Until recently the EU generally welcomed with open arms the exodus from Africa and the Middle East that has brought crime, rape and terrorism to the continent and an Islamic threat to Europe’s Judeo-Christian culture.

Indeed, the UK still pours aid into the coffers of nations whose corruption and disregard for their population’s welfare are the root cause of the perilous mass movement across the Mediterranean by fugitives from neglect.

The question must be asked whether we English have been rendered passive to international outrages by what that empty apologist for Putin – ex-England footballer Gary Lineker – sees as our own corruption. What right have we, he asks, to criticise others?

The short answer is that, when the chips are down, the world – and not just Admiral Nelson – used to expect England to do its duty.

This time we have failed miserably and there will be a price to pay for it if we continue in our palsied way through the storms along life’s road.

I am afraid we stand no taller than we did at Hitler’s Olympic Games in 1936 because we know what dictators make of soccer tournaments. We are sadly diminished and there is no point in blaming anyone but ourselves. Mea culpa.