According to this article Russian government believes that 2018 World Cup will help Russian economy on the medium term:

a survey by the Russian government last week. It said the World Cup's boost for the country's gross domestic product (GDP) would be between $26 billion (€22 billion) and $30.8 billion over the 10 years from 2013 through to 2023.

This article argues about several Western countries considering boycotting World Cup, but AFAIK most of them actually attended the competition:

(..) are Poland, Iceland, Denmark, Sweden, Australia and Japan, with more expected to follow.

About two days ago I have watched on TV a short documentary about this issue and some analysts argued that World Cup will also help Russia improve its international image using the competition [citation needed].

Considering above, attending the World Cup in Russia seems to contradict existing Western sanctions.

Question: Why didn't Western countries boycott the 2018 World Cup?

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    Note that the Sun (UK) newspaper would not be considered a neutral news source - it's incredibly jingoistic and Wikipedia lists it as a Right Wing, Conservative tabloid. The UK broadsheets are mostly closer to politically neutral as information sources. Commented Jun 21, 2018 at 23:26
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    @StephenG "The UK broadsheets are mostly closer to politically neutral as information sources" The Times and Telegraph are politically neutral?
    – user13354
    Commented Jun 22, 2018 at 8:23
  • @DrEval Note I said "mostly" and "closer". :-) Almost all the mainstream papers in the UK are relatively conservative. The Telegraph ... from my point of view it's closer to a work of fiction than a newspaper, but YMMV. :-) Commented Jun 25, 2018 at 4:17
  • @StephenG The problem with the Telegraph is that it used to be a very good newspaper - with lots of apolitical news and comment. It was de rigeur reading for large sections of the professional class. (The job advertisements on a Thursday played a big part in many lives.) And for that reason many older people still read it, and, because of its earlier reputation, and because it hasn't changed its size or masthead, they think of it as the old Telegraph - and sadly believe much of the rubbish it now prints.
    – WS2
    Commented May 30, 2021 at 6:57
  • @WS2 True (although it's a long time since I'd have described it as a good newspaper :-) ).I think only the Financial Times could be considered really neutral in the UK now (IMO of couurse). I think Brexit has made them much worse and active UK politicians writing for the papers is just ridiculous - maybe shouldn't be allowed in a democracy. Commented May 30, 2021 at 9:49

5 Answers 5


For many countries, the decision to attend or not is deferred to the national football association. The countries that you mention don't require exit visas, so it would require an exceptional act to prevent the football players from attending the World Cup in Russia. The government can attempt to influence the football association, but it is not a matter for the government, except in exceptional circumstances.

For the government to use its soft power to influence the football association would be tremendously unpopular with a large number of people. There is a notion that "politics should be kept out of sport". Even during the height of the Cold War, when relations between Russia and the West were much, much worse, Iceland, Denmark, Sweden, Australia all attended the Moscow Olympics. (Japan, however, did follow a U.S. boycott)

The current Western sanctions on Russia are clearly defined and described. They don't just say "don't help the Russians". They do not cover, and are not intended to cover all economic activity. They do not cover sporting events.

Doubtless many Western leaders would have preferred one of the other bidding groups (England, Spain/Portugal, Belgium/Netherlands) to be hosting the tournament. But to stop the national football team from playing would, in the words of Sir Humphrey, be "a courageous decision".

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    The "notion that politics should be kept out of sport" didn't prevent a sporting boycott of RSA over apartheid. Commented Jun 21, 2018 at 13:10
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    @PeterTaylor The problem of RSA as they very well knew was that they blocked participation of black athletes, so it had a direct connection to sport. It was the IOC themselves who decided that RSA cannot participate if they continue to suppress athletes. I know that it was more complicated with the independency of african states and the civil rights movement in both USA and RSA (Steve Biko) who put the IOC under political pressure, but saying that it was only political reasons does not give enough credit for the boycott. Commented Jun 21, 2018 at 15:22
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    How did the US boycott the Moscow Olympics then? Commented Jun 21, 2018 at 18:18
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    @JonathanReez Very good question. Australia participated despite the protest of the Premier, so it seems it depends how connected government and sport organizations are.. Some countries could also deny departure. Commented Jun 21, 2018 at 19:30
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    It rather depends how connected the government and the general audience are ... Many Western countries boycotted the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow, and I think this would still be feasible, but keeping a national team from participating in the World Cup would be a seriously risky thing for a government or national sports organization to attempt. In my country, at least 20% of the population would attempt to attend the protest demonstration, seriously disrupting public order. A politician proposing this will never win an election again. Commented Jun 22, 2018 at 15:37

FIFA has very strong policies against government interference.

If a government would pressure its football association to boycott the world cup, the result would be immediate suspension. So not only the decision itself would be unpopular, but it would result in further unpopular consequences (teams not allowed in other country and team international competitions, for instance).

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    Yep. The Indonesian national team was suspended for government intervention, making them unable to play in the qualifying games (although they wouldn't have qualified anyway). It would be pretty obvious that, if countries pressure their teams into boycotting the 2018 WC, their teams will very likely be immediately suspended in return. Not a wise thing to do! It makes yourself looks about as bad as your enemy, too.
    – xuq01
    Commented Jun 21, 2018 at 17:57
  • And FIFA has a powerful business interest in having the cup go ahead with as many popular teams from wealthy countries as it can, so it is unlikely to show sympathy for boycotters.
    – Stuart F
    Commented Jan 27, 2022 at 9:58

There's no better answer than Thern's, I'm afraid. Some governments have effectively boycotted the 2018 World Cup... by not sending governmental representatives to the official acts. But they haven't done anything to prevent the national teams to compete nevertheless - the only exception being the USA, who boycotted the World Cup by not qualifying. :p

Whenever the press or some other organization has raised the question of boycott, the politicians have started to whistle, look around or just pretend not hearing anything. The most they have got is this "governmental boycott". No one has dared to make such an unpopular move. Depending on the country, its population animosity against Russia may be low, moderate or high, but not even hardcore anti-russian countries such as some eastern european countries want their teams to miss the competition. Even Ukraine would have sent their team to Russia if they had qualified.

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    That's not to mention the public opinion bonuses associated with a team like Ukraine winning the world cup/knocking Russia out on Russion soil!
    – Smeato
    Commented Jun 21, 2018 at 13:03
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    "Some governments [...] have sent the players to compete" This might not be how you intended it, but the way it comes across to me is that you're saying that the governments are the ones to pick the players and telling them to go. I don't know, but I would hazard a guess that that's not how the process goes in quite a few countries, as discussed by James K. You might want to clarify this point.
    – user
    Commented Jun 21, 2018 at 13:38
  • @MichaelKjörling Clarified as noted. ;)
    – Rekesoft
    Commented Jun 21, 2018 at 13:51
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    Is the USA's non-participation then comparable to the rest of the World boycotting the "World Series" in baseball? :p Commented Jun 21, 2018 at 14:56
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    They aren't. It's a purely North American deal (there's apparently one team from Toronto, no idea why). There is a separate World Championship of baseball since 2006 and the Americans haven't won it since it's inception. Commented Jun 21, 2018 at 19:16

1. The countries who had most interest in a boycott failed the qualification.

England (Skripal affair), Ukraine (East Ukraine split), USA (hostile because of Syrian/Ukraine situation) and the Netherlands (MH 17), they all failed the qualification and were therefore unable to boycott the WM.

2. Sport boycotts don't achieve anything except increasing hostilities.

How do I know that? Because I am old enough to remember the Olympic Games in Moscow (1980) and the Olympic Games in Los Angeles(1984).

The USA convinced 66 countries to boycott the Games in Moscow because of the Soviet invasion in Afghanistan. So it was essentially the very same ground for boycotting: political protest. The USA gave an ultimatum: If the Soviets do not retreat, we will boycott the game. The Soviets ignored it, so the boycott was done.

After the boycott in Moscow Los Angeles in the USA was selected for the Summer Games. It is not really a surprise that the Eastern bloc decided to boycott the US games in return.

After both parties had enough of the farce that their corresponding athletes won gold effortlessly because of the lack of capable opponents and it was proven that you really don't have a bargaining chip by boycotting sports events sport boycotts ceased.

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    And South Africans would be quite surprised to be told that political sports boycotts ceased after 1984 (as I already pointed out on a comment to an earlier answer). Commented Jun 21, 2018 at 15:00
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    A boycott by the USA would be strange given the current POTUS'attitude towards Vladimir Putin (just last week he asked for Russia to be reinstated into the G7 group). And without pressure from the USA, Central and South America countries are not interested in such an unpopular measure.
    – SJuan76
    Commented Jun 21, 2018 at 15:20
  • And by the way, I wish they hadn't boycotted each other. I'd love to see how the USSR and USA would perform on the "enemy's territory". Commented Jun 22, 2018 at 14:35
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    That's the best answer. Boycotts in sports don't work, everything else is irrelevant. Commented Jun 23, 2018 at 5:13
  • Had the Netherlands qualified, they would have gone. A sport boycott would have been very unpopular with a huge majority of the population.
    – Sjoerd
    Commented Jun 23, 2018 at 18:06

Thern's comments and Rekensoft's answer are spot on. One has to consider here just how popular soccer is in Western Europe and Latin America. People can go totally crazy about soccer. One negative way this manifests itself is hooliganism, this is a major problem in many European and Latin American countries. So, soccer is not just any other popular sport, it's a lot more, so much so that even reporting on a soccer game requires a lot more physical effort compared to other sports.

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    FYI: very few countries in the world call it soccer, just U.S., Canada, Australia, and a couple south African nations, according to a search I just did. The overwhelmingly vast majority of people call it football (not to be confused with what the U.S. tries to call football). I assume most people will still know what you mean, but I'm just letting you know so you can edit if you choose to use the more common term.
    – Aaron
    Commented Jun 22, 2018 at 15:55
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    Yeah, soccer was invented in 1863, when the word football was already the name of other games, including the football invented at Rugby School and now played all over the world. Referring to soccer as "football" makes about as much sense as referring to tennis as "netball", because, you know ... there's a net and a ball, and who cares that there's already another game called netball. Commented Jun 23, 2018 at 7:12
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    @DawoodibnKareem So we should stop calling handball handball, just because there is a ball and hands, or basketball basketball, just because there is a ball and two baskets. When it comes to naming common things there is no such thing as better naming when 90% of the world already use a given term. Insisting that another name is better for whatever reason is just trying to claim superior intelligence.
    – LukeG
    Commented Jun 25, 2018 at 12:00
  • @LukeG Not sure how you conclude that 90% of the world use the word "football" when just under 5% of the world have English as their first language, and roughly 70% of those live in USA. But hey, 90% vs 1.5% - not too much difference. In any case, you've completely missed the point of what I was saying. My point was that when soccer was invented, there was already a game called football, and soccer stole its name. Commented Jun 25, 2018 at 21:10
  • @DawoodibnKareem So the Germans call it fussball, French le football, Spanish futbol, the Portuguese futebol. Even the Japanese and South Koreans talk of "football". It is the world's leading spectator sport by a thousand miles - and its trophies the biggest prizes in sport. It commands TV audiences like nothing else on earth. The entire civilised world calls it FOOTBALL (except America, and Australia who think they have something which remotely compares in popularity). The reason it enjoys this status is because it is far and away a better game than anything else called football.
    – WS2
    Commented May 30, 2021 at 7:14

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