German lawmakers raise doubts about Russia hosting football World Cup

BERLIN Wed Jul 23, 2014 4:43pm BST

Russia's President Vladimir Putin (L) addresses people as he visits a construction site of the stadium which is expected to host soccer matches of the 2018 World Cup, next to Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko (R), in the city of Samara, July 21, 2014. REUTERS/RIA Novosti/Alexei Nikolskyi/Kremlin

Russia's President Vladimir Putin (L) addresses people as he visits a construction site of the stadium which is expected to host soccer matches of the 2018 World Cup, next to Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko (R), in the city of Samara, July 21, 2014.

Credit: Reuters/RIA Novosti/Alexei Nikolskyi/Kremlin

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BERLIN (Reuters) - Several senior German lawmakers have raised the possibility of stripping Russia of its right to host the 2018 World Cup and the national football federation said it was very worried about events following the downing of a passenger plane over Ukraine.

Western states have blamed pro-Russian separatists battling Kiev's forces in eastern Ukraine for the downing of the Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 on July 17 in which 298 people were killed.

The European Union has threatened to impose harsher economic sanctions on Russia, though on Tuesday ministers delayed action for a few days.

Taking away Russia's right to hold the football tournament may have a significantly greater impact than more economic sanctions, said Michael Fuchs, deputy head of Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative bloc in the German parliament.

"The FIFA football association should think about whether Moscow is an appropriate host if it can't even guarantee safe airways," Fuchs told Handelsblatt Online, adding that Germany and France could take over the tournament if needed.

It would be unprecedented for the footballing world to deprive a country of hosting the World Cup once it has been awarded. Russia was selected in 2010 to host the event.

But Peter Beuth, interior minister of the state of Hesse, told top-selling Bild daily that staging the World Cup in Russia in 2018 would be "unimaginable" if Russian President Vladimir Putin did not actively cooperate with the crash investigation.

Withdrawing the World Cup from Russia "should not be taboo", said Stephan Mayer, a member of Bavaria's conservative Christian Social Union (CSU).

Germany's DFB football federation President Wolfgang Niersbach said Germany, which won the World Cup in Brazil this month, had very good relations with the Russian football association and the World Cup organisation committee.

"But we are watching with very great concern political events in Russia which could not be predicted at the time of the awarding of the World Cup in 2010," he added in a statement which stopped short of backing Russia's right to host.

"PEACEFUL COOPERATION"

FIFA said earlier this week it could not comment. Germany's FIFA executive committee member, Theo Zwanziger, played down the possibility of moving the tournament.

"The World Cup has been awarded to Russia, contracts have been signed and rights issued," Zwanziger told Handelsblatt.

He also rejected any calls for a boycott.

"A boycott in sport only rarely yields results and therefore I don't think much of such suggestions," Zwanziger told Handelsblatt, adding that Fuchs' comments sounded populistic.

"Sport must go places even if it is painful. Only then can it stand up for its values and convictions such as tolerance, fairness and peaceful cooperation," said Zwanziger.

Several Western nations, including the United States, boycotted the Moscow Olympic Games in 1980, in protest against the Soviet Union's invasion of Afghanistan.

Russia hosted the Winter Olympics in the Black Sea resort of Sochi in February shortly before relations between Western nations and Russia deteriorated sharply due to the Ukraine crisis. Trade groups in Germany have said new EU sanctions could hurt business between Russia and Europe's biggest economy.

The Malaysian plane had been flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur when it was shot down near Donetsk, a stronghold of pro-Russian rebels.

In the Netherlands, where many of the passengers came from, the Dutch football association said it was too early to review Russia's hosting of the 2018 World Cup.

"The association believes it is more appropriate to conduct a discussion over a future World Cup in Russia at a later moment, once the investigation into the disaster has been completed," it said in a statement.

England's football association chairman also said on Tuesday it was premature to talk of moving the World Cup from Russia.

(Additional reporting by Brian Homewood and Thomas Escritt in Amsterdam; Editing by Stephen Brown and Alison Williams)

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