No Russia, with love
A constant presence will be missing from the Socceroos active support at this year's World Cup19 May 2018 | Pablo Bateson
Freelance writer and passionate travelling fan
It has been well publicised that in October last year I completed a run of attending 47 consecutive World Cup qualifiers of our Socceroos since February 2008. I wrote about the reasons for not making the second leg at home to Syria at the time.
My lifelong passion for football is only surpassed by a commitment to my wonderful Thai partner. The priorities for our shared goals and aspirations include jobs and new business ventures, where we live, and further post graduate studies for both of us. Of course, this also means our finances are directed to support our chosen lifestyle.
For this reason, I will not be travelling to the Russia 2018 edition of the FIFA World Cup, unless by some incredible fortune Australia make it to the final in Moscow on 15 July - “Call me a dreamer”.
Despite my unconditional support for our Socceroos, this important decision ultimately became a clear-cut choice when faced with my lifestyle changes.
Having said that, I also acknowledge that I had already been feeling some reservations over some years about hosting of the world’s biggest football tournament in 2018.
This has included the decision by FIFA to award the rights to Russia amidst the global corruption, manipulation, patronage, deceit and dirty games being played in a ‘dual-bidding’ process that was compromised from the start.
Also, the lead up to next month’s finals were tainted by scandals of systematic state-sanctioned drug cheating across many sports involving Russian athletes.
Football has not been immune from unhealthy attitudes by some senior officials, for example almost excusing the planned violence and rampage by a group of Russian ‘fans’ at the 2016 Euro.
Elements of reporting by the media in Russia have stereotyped and inflamed prejudice and created fear amongst intending travelling supporters of England. Controversy about ‘scare mongering’ has, for example, just been fuelled by comments from one senior police spokesperson in the latter country.
Many argue that politics should not be mixed with football, yet such a position is somewhat naïve given how so many initiatives are negotiated and decided at local, regional, national, confederation and global levels.
As fans, we have to balance personal values including any ethical and moral positions with our passion, loyalties and commitment to football and the teams we support and follow around the world.
There are contradictions, double standards and hypocrisy in many if not all nations doing business in football where power, privilege and positions of influence critical decisions and policies.
Many fellow Australians know how my unwavering support has been backed up with travel to so many away games in countries like Saudi Arabia, China, Uzbekistan and Iran.
I strongly disagree with any calls for a boycott by any nation(s) of the 2018 finals or punitive actions to take the hosting rights away from Russia.
To re-emphasise, my own decision is based primarily upon personal financial circumstances and priorities.
It is important to recognise there are many millions of Russian football fans, and their citizens more generally, who share the same wonderful and worthy ideals of billions of other across the globe. They enjoy football for its own sake as the beautiful game, which links cultures and peoples across borders regardless of religion, race, age, gender or sexual identity.
To the Russian people, I hope the five weeks of 64 football games in June and July provide you with enjoyable and memorable experiences based upon an inclusive, fun, exciting, safe and peaceful tournament. You deserve success on the world stage.
I wish my fellow fans including many close friends who attend Russia 2018 all the very best for providing support to help lift our team. They will once again be the “12th man” against three top quality opponents including France, champions of 1998 and runners-up in 2006.
My expectations are that the Socceroos, with another ‘underdogs’ label will exceed the pessimistic predictions of many observers by giving Group C and the tournament a shake. It is realistic to believe they can progress to the knock out stages, and from there anything is possible - such is the winning mentality and organisation of Australian national teams.
I will be returning to Australia from my Bangkok second home base in the first week of June. Like thousands of other Aussies, my plan is to join fans at live broadcast venues organised by the Socceroos Active Support group.
This will include attending one of the group games being screened at the famous Jamberoo Pub near Kiama on the South Coast of New South Wales. It will be a symbolic trip as the hotel has long been owned and operated by the extended family of the late, great Johnny Warren.
“I told you so” was Johnny’s mantra and epitaph. Consistent with this, we can dream that anything is possible in shared belief for our fourth straight participation at the World Cup finals.
Stay tuned for sharing next week of my analysis of our opponents in the group stage as part of Football Today's World Cup coverage.
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