Early Doors

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Early Doors

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How on earth did the
Russians get so bad at politics?

They used to be the
masters of diplomacy, using all their charm and wiles to secure the right
outcome.

But their
blundersome 2018 World Cup bid has been one PR disaster after another.

In the beginning, the Russian bid
chief Alexei Sorokin took exception - not unreasonably, as it happened - to
rather high-handed criticism of Lokomotiv Moscow fans for aiming a 'racist' banner at Peter
Odemwingie featuring a banana.

Was it really racist?
ED asked Ilya Minsky of eurosport.ru and got this response:

"Well, basically Sorokin is right: a banana is really a symbol of disapproval used by school kids. The point is that banana looks like '1' or '2', which are the worst marks a pupil can get. So when you get '1', they say 'you've got a banana'.

"Odemwingie had been doing pretty badly at Lokomotiv for more than a year, and at the same time he was one of the most highly paid players in the squad. So his overall performance obviously deserved a banana (in the sense described above). I would also like to highlight that Lokomotiv fans are probably the most tolerant and calm people among Russian supporters, so it's really hard to believe they would have expressed their feelings that 'racist' way."

But Sorokin
bizarrely decided to point the finger at Odemwingie, accusing him of seeking attention and being "irrelevant".

He then hit back at
criticism of the Russian bid - not from their English rivals, you understand, but
from the British media, which not only is not controlled by the country's
football authorities, but has been savage in its attacks on it.

Sorokin's tactics
was to prove Russia
was above petty barbs at its rivals by listing all the things he could say but
hadn't.

"We do not enter into squabbles," he said.
"It's no secret, for example, that London
(has) the highest crime rate when compared with other European cities, and the
highest level of alcohol consumption among young people. But why should one
poke his nose in that?

"We could start a
conversation about the lack of tolerance and inciting ethnic hatred by English
fans, but do not behave like the aunt in the kitchen criticising our
neighbours."

Apart from that bit just there.

Having apparently patched things up with London
Mayor Boris Johnson, Sorokin then put his foot in it again, first denying then
reiterating his claims.

"Those reports are totally false and untrue," he
said. "As far as myself and all our bid officials are concerned, we never
say anything on the England
bid or other rival bidders for that matter. On the contrary, we try to stay
away from any controversy, in particular criticising our rivals."

But he then said of his original comments: "Yes, that's what
I said - but it is true."

True or not, it certainly does not fit with the gentleman's agreement whereby bids do not publicly diss each other.

Earlier this year, Sorokin retorted thus to Seb Coe's rather
tiresome claim that English football fans are the best in the world:

"I do not
understand what 'the best supporters' mean. Maybe he meant that English
football fans are the utmost hooligans. If that's so, I am ready to agree and
hand over supremacy to them.

"Wherever the English fans travel they create huge problems
for the hosts. In this sense they are indeed 'the best'."

ED is no lover of travelling
England fans, but hooliganism has declined markedly at recent tournaments. And
if turning up constitutes a 'huge problem for the hosts', Sorokin might consider
whether he really wants the World Cup at all.

It has been a
remarkably calamitous show from a country that was once so artful when it came
to sweet-talking others.

There may be
something in the argument that the rise of aggressive capitalism has made the
Russians just as brash and vulgar as the rest of us. You know, without wanting to indulge in wild and inaccurate national generalisations.

That is not to say Russia will not
get the World Cup. The bidding process is as transparent as a block of flats.

Early Doors says
this because the voting procedure will not even be decided until a couple of
weeks before the decision is made.

The Observer's
magnificent Said and Done diary has got its teeth stuck particularly
enthusiastically into FIFA over recent months, painting a picture of an
organisation mired in hypocrisy and woefully out of touch with reality.

Whether or not recent
corruption allegations - vehemently denied by those concerned - hold any water
(and we may never know given FIFA's apparent reluctance to investigate these
issues fully), Said and Done's weekly dispatches from world football's
governing body make for depressingly hilarious reading.

Appropriately,
the president of the Asian Football Confederation has recently blamed the
British media for the latest scandal, accusing the Sunday Times of
"unethical measures".

"How will we clean dirty laundry by using dirty water?" Mohamed bin
Hammam asked in his blog. Much better to sweep said dirty laundry under the
carpet, apparently.

- - -

QUOTE OF THE DAY: Jose Mourinho on Monday, ahead of Real Madrid's Copa del Rey first
leg against Real Murcia, warning against a repeat of last year's exit to
Alcorcon: "If it happens again, then I will cross
the players that will feature off my list, because they'll be dead to me."

It finished 0-0 last night, meaning a slip-up in the second leg means the
following players will never play for the club again (says Mourinho): Iker
Casillas, Sergio Ramos, Pepe, Raul Albiol, Alvaro Arbeloa, Mahamadou Diarra,
Esteban Granero, Sami Khedira, Pedro Leon, Sergio Canales, Cristiano Ronaldo,
Angel Di Maria, Karim Benzema, Gonzalo Higuain.

FOREIGN VIEW: You
will know by now that Paul the Octopus is dead. They say deaths come in threes,
and after Tony Curtis and Norman Wisdom, it was only a matter of time for the
legendary cephalopod.

You are in a better
place now, Paul, safe from the likes of this loon on Argentine TV who put a relative
of the 'Nazi octopus' in a blender and tries (unsuccessfully) to get audience
members to drink the result.

Although you have to
like the way the bloke stops halfway through to add white wine to the
concoction.

COMING UP: More
Carling Cup action, with full live coverage of Newcastle v Arsenal 
and regular updates from all the other games.

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