NAFTA may be dead, but the NAFTA World Cup will be coming in 2026. FIFA announced Wednesday that Canada, Mexico and the United States will jointly host the event. The only other jointly hosted World Cup was between historic enemies Japan and Korea in 2002, so perhaps FIFA knows something about the future of North American relations that we don’t.
That’s all eight years off. Today, the 2018 World Cup begins, a solid month where my lack of interest in football — soccer, that is — puts me in the distinct minority of global sports fans, who will be following the intense excitement that only a 1-nil thriller can bring.
Permit me then to pass over the drama — or it is melodrama, given the theatrics for which international football is famous? — on the pitch and consider the geopolitics of the event.
Guests listen to Peruvian tenor Juan Diego Florez during a concert dedicated to the 2018 World Cup at Moscow’s Red Square on June 13, 2018.
The opening match is in Moscow and pits the host, Russia, against Saudi Arabia, which is suitable. The next World Cup will be in Qatar, but it did not qualify for the tournament this time. Saudi Arabia though is a Western-friendly, oil-rich repressive regime, so Russia-Saudi will be an apt curtain-raiser on FIFA’s World Cup turn toward tyranny.
How will the world community deal with Russia’s turn on the world stage? President Vladimir Putin will exploit the World Cup for his imperial pretensions. Will the world permit that, or use the spotlight to challenge Putin?
What President Donald Trump will do one never knows, but the global spotlight of the World Cup will prove irresistible, so we can expect a month of presidential commentary on Putin, on Russia, on the investigation of Russian interference in the American election, and on whatever else one might learn about Russia from watching cable news.
Visitors browse a World Cup souvenir shop near a statue of Vladimir Lenin in Moscow on June 13, 2018.
Trump’s comments on readmitting Russia to the G7 on the eve of the recent summit in Charlevoix were widely condemned for being soft on Putin. Prescinding from his comments though, is the fact that the global community has more or less reconciled itself to Putin’s invasion of Ukraine and de facto protectorate in Syria. If Putin were to return to the G7 it would be largely to gloat.
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