AS THE football World Cup draw takes place in Russia today (Friday), Simon Chadwick, Professor of Sport Analytics at the University of Salford Business School looks at the controversies surrounding the event and how hosting it could affect relations between Russia and the rest of the world.
Professor Chadwick said: “This has been a World Cup mired in controversy since the country’s name came out of the hat in 2010, at the end of a controversial bidding process.
“Qatar has borne the brunt of concerns about FIFA’s unusual decision to award World Cup hosting rights to two nations at the same time (for 2018 and 2022). Yet Russia is seen by some as also being culpable for whatever misdemeanours might have been perpetrated during the bidding process.
“It’s hosting of the 2014 winter Olympic Games attracted widespread criticism for its financial excesses, as well for the country’s handling of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual rights.
“Even more controversially, we now know that several Russian athletes were engaged in systematic, possibly even industrial-scale, doping to boost their medal winning chances in Sochi.
“In the meantime, Russia emerged as the home of the hacker. Alongside this, claims and counter-claims continue to swirl about Moscow’s interference in the domestic politics of numerous countries, the US and Britain included.
“Russia’s stock in some parts of the world could not be any lower at this point.
“What hope is there for Brand Russia in the face of such overwhelmingly negative Western perceptions? Sporting events such as the World Cup are normally an opportunity for countries to project a positive image of themselves. Indeed, it is now common for commentators to refer to the soft power influence of sporting events. The notion of soft power emphasises the attractiveness of a nation, its politics and its policies.
“Quite how the World Cup’s local organising committee, Putin and the country’s state apparatus will continue trying to convince the world of their attractiveness nevertheless remains to be seen. Of course, Russia is a beautiful country, with an amazing history and often hospitable citizens. However, in marketing parlance consumers may ultimately still encounter cognitive dissonance, when they see that what they were promised and what they perceive are two different things.
“In other words, whatever it is that Brand Russia is offering, then it must deliver…and fast. Otherwise the perma-frost of the world’s perceptions about the country may remain so thick that they fail to thaw in time for next year’s tournament. This would not only undermine the World Cup, but continue reinforcing popular perceptions that Brand Russia remains villainous, not virtuous.”