British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson agreed Wednesday that President Vladimir Putin would exploit the 2018 football World Cup in Russia as Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler did the Berlin Olympics.
Johnson agreed with an MP who suggested, “Putin is going to use it in the way Hitler used the 1936 Olympics”, as a propaganda exercise.
“I think the comparison with 1936 is certainly right,” the minister replied, envisaging Putin “glorying in this sporting event”.
The comments came amid an escalating war of words between Russia and Britain over the poisoning of a former Russian double agent on British soil earlier this month.
Johnson also called for Russian guarantees over the safety of England fans at the World Cup.
– ‘Unfair to punish the team’ –
However, he stressed the British government had no plans to stop the England side travelling to the World Cup, telling MPs: “On balance, it would be incredibly unfair to punish the (England) team”.
Hitler wanted the 1936 Games to be a symbol of Aryan supremacy and famously refused to shake hands with American star Jesse Owens, the black track and field athlete who won four gold medals in Berlin.
Relations between London and Moscow are in crisis over the March 4 nerve agent attack on a former Russian spy in Britain, which the UK is blaming on the Kremlin.
Britain has expelled 23 Russian diplomats and Moscow has responded in kind — but Johnson said they had kicked out the UK official set to be tasked with the fan safety portfolio.
“You can’t imagine anything more counter-productive to the UK’s ability to help fans in Russia, so there is an issue — there is a discussion,” he added.
“My challenge to the Russian authorities is to show that the 24,000 UK applicants for tickets to the football World Cup are going to be well-treated, are going to be safe. It is up to the Russians to guarantee the safety of England fans going to Russia.”
Johnson insisted Britain was doing all it could to ensure the safety of England fans and had been coordinating with the Russian police in recent months.
“At the moment, we are not inclined actively to dissuade people from going because we want to hear from the Russians what steps they are going to take to look after our fans,” he said.
England are due to play Tunisia in Volgograd on June 18, Panama in Nizhny Novgorod on June 24 and Belgium in Kaliningrad on June 28 in their Group G matches.
At the 2016 European football championships in France, England fans were attacked by Russians in Marseille, ahead of a match between the two teams and in the stadium itself.
The clashes left 35 people injured, including two England fans who suffered serious injuries.
The Russian team was given a suspended disqualification and the country’s national football federation was fined.