Sunday 16 December 2018

Boris Johnson compares Putin and Russia World Cup to Hitler hosting the 1936 Olympics

British Foreign Secretary says it would be sickening to watch Vladimir Putin glory in sporting event

Lizzy Buchan

Boris Johnson has compared the upcoming World Cup in Moscow to the Olympic Games under Hitler amid escalating tensions over the poisoning of a former Russian spy in the UK.

The Foreign Secretary said it would be sickening to watch Russian President Vladimir Putin present the World Cup in the summer, in response to concerns that the event would be used as a "PR exercise to gloss over the brutal, corrupt regime".

Labour MP Ian Austin, a die-hard football fan, said the UK should consider boycotting the tournament and warned it was not safe for England fans to attend.

"Putin is going to use it the way Hitler used the 1936 Olympics," he told Mr Johnson during an appearance before the Foreign Affairs Committee.

"The idea of Putin using this as a PR exercise to gloss over the brutal, corrupt regime for which he’s responsible, fills me with horror."

Mr Johnson replied: "I think the comparison with 1936 is certainly right and frankly, I think it is an emetic prospect to think of Putin glorying in this sporting event."

It would be wrong to ban the England team and fans from attending the tournament but there could be risks for those going to Russia this summer, he said.

Mr Johnson: "This is of crucial importance to us and we do indeed need to have an urgent conversation with the Russians about how they propose to fulfil their obligations under their FIFA contract to look after all fans arriving and we certainly shall be having that conversation."

He revealed that the official responsible for looking after fans at the World Cup had been expelled in the Kremlin's purge of UK diplomats, in response to Theresa May's expulsion of spies after the attack on Sergei and Yulia Skripal in Salisbury.

Mr Johnson added: "We are watching it very, very closely. At the moment we are not inclined actively to dissuade people from going because we want to hear from the Russians what steps they are going to take to look after our fans."

Applications for tickets are well down from the World Cup in Rio de Janeiro but many fans are still attending and their safety must be guaranteed, he said.

The Foreign Secretary said the trail of evidence on the poisoning of the Skripals led "inexorably" to the Kremlin and suggested that the recent election may have been the motivation for the attack.

He told MPs: "As many non-democratic figures do when facing an election or some critical political moment, it is often attractive to conjure up in the public imagination the notion of an enemy.

"That is what I think it was an attempt to excite amongst the Russian electorate."

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