British media are reporting that the United Kingdom could boycott this summer’s World Cup soccer championships in Russia if it is determined Moscow is behind the suspected nerve-gas attack on a former Russian spy in the English city of Salisbury.
The Times newspaper on March 10 said British officials are talking to counterparts in the United States and Europe about coordinated diplomatic, economic, and military retaliatory measures.
“A boycott of the World Cup is definitely one of the options on the cards,” the Times quoted a defense source as saying.
The newspaper said the boycott could include anything from stopping senior politicians or officials from attending the event to withdrawing the English team from the tournament, scheduled for June 14 to July 15.
Other countries’ teams that have qualified for the World Cup, such as Poland, Australia, and Japan, could also be asked to join any boycotts, officials told the newspaper.
Britain's Daily Mail newspaper said in a commentary that Western countries’ attendance at the World Cup – considered the world’s biggest sporting event -- would hand Russia a "sheen of acceptability and normality, a bloody stamp of approval."
A boycott could harken back to the Summer Olympics in Moscow in 1980, when the United States and 64 other countries pulled out of the games over the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan. The United States did not qualify for this year's World Cup.
President Vladimir Putin has focused on improving his country’s imagine in the sporting world after a doping scandal that led to the barring of many Russian athletes from global competition, including the just-completed Winter Olympics.
In 2015, Putin said Russia "promises to organize a grand sports holiday, which I am sure will make the history of the world sports and global football."
The official budget for the 2018 World Cup is 678 billion rubles ($11.6 billion), but many analysts believe Moscow has spent far more in an effort to put on an impressive tournament.
Officials said other measure could include bolstering NATO forces in Eastern Europe. Some 4,000 troops have been deployed to the alliance’s eastern flank to reassure allies in the region concerned by Moscow's aggressive foreign-policy moves.
“A wide range of options are being discussed,” a senior British official said.
Meanwhile, the British government on March 10 held another top-level security meeting to discuss the poisoning of Russian ex-spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, with a nerve agent on a public bench in Salisbury. Both remain in critical condition.
Home Secretary Amber Rudd said after the meeting it was still "too early" to say who was behind the incident. A police officer who arrived on the scene has also been hospitalized.
The March 4 attack on Skripal, 66, and Yulia, 33, is being treated as attempted murder.
Britain has said it will respond appropriately if evidence shows Moscow was behind the incident. The Kremlin has denied involvement and asserted that anti-Russian hysteria is being whipped up by the British media.
With reporting by The Times, AFP, The Daily Mail, and TASS