Hugh Reilly: Russian World Cup a certainty

Nick Clegg is unhappy about Vladimir Putin getting to host football's World Cup in Russia. Picture: Getty
Nick Clegg is unhappy about Vladimir Putin getting to host football's World Cup in Russia. Picture: Getty
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For politicians who have kept quiet about atrocities over the years it’s the height of hypocrisy to start waving fingers now, writes Hugh Reilly

Nick Clegg’s hand-wringing approach to unwelcome tidings such as the eviscerating of Gazan children by Israeli shells whilst playing on a sandy beach is in stark contrast to his reaction to a pro-Russia rag-tag militia shooting down a Malaysian airliner.

Clegg saved his bubbling ire to snipe at Vladimir Putin for the abhorrent action of a para military group over which he did not/does not have full control. The Lib-Dem leader demands that Russia be stripped of its right to hold the 2018 World Cup, citing that failure to do so would make the world look “so weak and so insincere. You can’t have this – the beautiful game marred by the ugly aggression of Russia,” he growled.

So here we have the man who is a heartbeat away from being PM – well, at least until the Tory party bids adieu to a departed David Cameron and elects a new leader. To be fair, Clegg is hanging on to the coattails of America where Putin is perceived to be the Devil incarnate. Hillary Clinton, a presidential hopeful who makes Sarah Palin seem a Harvard scholar, chipped in with her thoughts on the deplorable surface-to-air missile attack on an airliner that left 300 innocents dead. “Vladimir Putin, certainly indirectly, bears responsibility for what happened.”

It’s something of a pity that in 1988 she and Slick Willy hit the mute button when failing to condemn the shooting down of an Iranian airliner by the USS Vincennes. Flying inside Iranian airspace, the aircraft was blasted out of the sky by the US warship operating inside Iranian territorial water, with a loss of 290 people, 66 of them children. The captain of the ship faced no criminal action; indeed, George H Bush, spawner of Walker Bush, crowed that “the crew acted appropriately”. Just eight years later, Atlanta hosted the Olympic Games.

Unshockingly, the EU did not introduce sanctions against America in an effort to somehow shape its aggressive nature. It was left to the United Nations Security Council to pass Resolution 616 that, in no uncertain terms, expressed “deep distress” and “profound regret” for the callous brutality of the world’s policeman. Oh how the USA quaked on hearing these words.

Back then, of course, Nick Clegg was a callow fellow of some 21 years and an alleged member of the Cambridge University Conservative Association. Menzies Campbell does not have that excuse. He was the recently elected MP for North East Fife, the constituency of his holiday home. I’m certain Ming denounced the USA’s attack on the Iranian airline; after all, it is a matter of public record that this honourable man, like me, shows a keen interest in the deaths of air passengers blown out of the skies. Sir Ming has opined fulsomely on the Lockerbie bombing, declaring that “the decision to release Mr Megrahi was ill-judged”. One but can imagine what his thoughts are on the Iranian dead, or indeed, the decision of the US navy to later award the captain of the USS Vincennes promotion. What is known is that while Pan-Am 103 and MH-17 are forever etched into the consciousness of the Anglo-Saxon axis, the flight number of the equally doomed Iranian aircraft remains a tad anonymous (it was Flight 655, since you ask).

To me, this is no whiff of hypocrisy from Clegg; it’s more the foul odour of a full-blown outburst of bean-fuelled flatulence of Blazing Saddles proportions. Walk with me. London was allowed to be mine host for the Olympics despite Blair launching a war of aggression against Iraq. America participated in this year’s football World Cup even though its drone strikes made replying affirmatively to a wedding invitation in the tribal regions of Pakistan a somewhat risky activity. In this year’s World Cup jamboree, Algeria punched above its weight. This is the same country whose Western-supporting elite annulled the nation’s only truly democratic election, in 1992, won by the Islamic opposition. I’m sure Clegg and Campbell condemned this electoral fraud, that they reproved Algeria’s strongmen, you know, the type that apparently all Arab countries need when democracy threatens Western interests: (General) Mubarak and his mini-me, (General) Sisi, the Shah, Abdullah ibn Abdilazīz (kindly King of Saudi Arabia).

It would be remiss of me not to point out that Arabs don’t enjoy a monopoly of having tyrants for heads of states. Clegg and his tut-tutters don’t say much about President Karimov of Uzbekistan, a country that, according to human rights groups, uses torture as a first resort. On the plus side, the amenable Uzbeks allow the US to use their airbases, earning a loyalty card point or two from Nick Clegg, no doubt.

Clegg’s clarion call for sporting sanctions is odd given that politicians normally love to parrot the tired line that “we shouldn’t mix politics and sports”. These are the same people who insisted on boycotting the Soviet Olympics of 1980 when the USSR invaded, erm, Afghanistan. They are the same folk who threw up their arms in faux outrage when the Soviets, the scoundrels, retaliated by not taking part in the next Olympics in Los Angeles. They are the decision-makers who, when South Africa was finally put on the international naughty step for denying the indigenous people the right to vote, allowed Zola Budd, the South African runner, to set a new world record for receiving a British passport, thanks to unwavering support from Margaret Thatcher. It has to be said that although Budd did not win gold, her accidental trip on the USA’s Mary Decker earned a certain cachet in anti-apartheid circles.

In my opinion, by dint of previous utterances or, indeed, omission of criticism, individuals such as Clegg have forfeited any right to take part in any discourse regarding Putin’s strategic plans for Ukraine and Russia. Believe me, with so much hypocrisy bouncing around this planet, the World Cup will kick-off in Russia, no matter if it goes to EU or Lib-Dem penalties.