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World Cup 2018: Off field action as compelling as that on it

Wednesday 30 May 2018

THE FOOTBALL World Cup in Russia this summer is about far more than sport. Geopolitics, soft power, the changing face of sports broadcasting, brand power, potential fan violence and more will all be in the mix, for what is potentially one of the most controversial sporting events of all time.

Simon Chadwick, Professor of Sports enterprise at the University of Salford, has highlighted the key off-field topics that are likely to drive debate during the tournament through his blog.

Professor Chadwick said: “There is so much to be looking out for.  The politics of football, using football as a means to an end and to project soft power and how that plays into the current world political climate. That could be huge.

“Commercially there are new tournaments being proposed such as the Club World Cup, which could impact on future World Cups, will that see friction between FIFA and UEFA?

“There are changes in way sport is being consumed. There has been a decline in broadcast TV viewing figures and the rise of streaming, will that continue?

“Meanwhile the business of football continues to grow. There is so much to be thinking about and watch how it all plays out.”

Some of the key topics highlighted by Professor Chadwick


Geopolitics sets the backdrop against which the World Cup will be played, this year’s tournament in Russia being an especially sensitive one given, for example the country’s issues with doping, hacking, trolling, poisoning and so forth.  Some nations are already taking diplomatic action against Russia and President Putin and the Russian government appears to be using the World Cup as a means through which to achieve other ends.
What Russia’s President Putin says and does – before, during and after the World Cup will be fascinating. Similarly, how nations with which Russia has a fractious relationship (e.g. Britain, France etc.) react to the tournament could be significant. 

Soft Power

Sport, particularly football, has become an increasingly means through which nations seek to exert soft power influence and engage key target audiences. The tournament is being played in an environment where there is considerable geopolitical antagonism and because several nations that are key in global political axes will be appearing at the tournament (for instance, Iran and Saudi Arabia).
Expect several countries to utilise the World Cup as a means through which to engage audiences around the globe. With several fractious relationships characterising relations between countries at this year’s tournament, some will be seeking to influence people and attract support through, for instance, the way that countries are positioned and presented in Russia. Indeed, the hosts themselves will be using fan zones, mascots, posters, imagery and so forth in an attempt to create a more positive view of the country.


Following the annexation of Crimea just twenty days after the end of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, some have speculated that Putin may sanction similar such action after this summer’s event. However, the impact of Russia 2018 will not just be political; the World Cup is a huge economic and commercial proposition, though how this will play-out when the host remains subject to international sanctions remains to be seen. Russia is a contentious host nation, where the impact may be more overtly political than anything else and FIFA has been focused on establishing and growing revenue streams, particularly from new sponsorship deals, but also from other commercial relationships.


Although this summer’s World Cup is being staged in Russia, the prospect of what is to come in Qatar will surely be ever-present in the background. Already, there have been innumerable issues around the Gulf state’s successful bid to stage the 2022 tournament. However, with discussions about labour market change, a regional feud, discussions about competition design, and a schedule change all still ongoing, the prospect of a very different competition in four years will sustain summer-long discussions. 

Professor Simon Chadwick is available for comment on these topics and more during the World Cup. His thoughts and analysis on these topics and more can be found on his blog.

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Sam Wood

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