In a series of peculiar events that can only be contextually placed in the reality of the 21st century, football, war, and diplomacy meet and intertwine. Today, Russia and the U.S take one more step in their very own modern adaptation of the Cold War in the curious battlefield of international soccer. But are Putin's remarks on the lack of jurisdiction and competence of the U.S over the corruption scandal only a logical step in Russia's traditional policy of rhetoric against America, or do they play a strategic role in Russia's approach to the conflict in Ukraine? In today's globalized and interconnected world everything is possible.
When it comes to projecting military power, Russia has it covered, always has and probably always will. But when it comes to friends and sympathy, the towering nation struggles as the Soft Power Survey 2014/2015 demonstrates. Particularly, Putin's leadership has weakened Russia's power to persuade and gain allies through non-military means in the last years, an undeniably relevant resource in the international system. Today, in the face of a growing economic crisis and an increasingly risky position in the Ukraine conflict, Russia takes hold of any available resource to boost up its reputation and reaffirm its confrontational position against the West, even football.
Putin on the FIFA scandal cannot be interpreted as an isolated rhetoric speech, not when Ukraine's sovereignty and stability remain at stake and evidence of Russia's involvement in the conflict keeps emerging. In the first place, Putin's stand on the U.S. intervention in the matter is congruent with a larger and broader discourse against the intervention of the U.S -- and the West in general -- in other nations' affairs. This discourse gains particular relevance in the context of the war in Ukraine, where the U.S., the E.U., and NATO currently discuss the possibility of a greater intervention and supplying lethal aid. Rhetoric is taking a whole new dimension, and new actors and platforms such as sports become significant outlets. Second, Putin's stand regarding the FIFA scandal is not only a matter of rhetoric and discourse; it is a matter of leadership projection. For Russia, calling on the U.S., openly exposing its opinion on Joseph Blatter's re-election, and defending its right to host the 2018 World Cup with subtle threats and strong declarations, are part of a greater strategy to project power, leadership, and determination in every possible dimension. In times of direct confrontation with the U.S. and the West, this is a resource that cannot be wasted.
Finally, and whether we like it or not, football has become a significant source of soft power in today's world. FIFA and the World Cup have become not only important sources of economic revenue for the host countries, but important platforms to expose the virtues, traditions, culture, and tourist destinations of the lucky nation, elements that aid the construction of a positive reputation and image which directly impact international politics. Russia's strong and controversial position in the matters of football is much more than an extravagant caprice, it is a sign of determination and strong commitment to a congruent narrative and discourse that guides its foreign policy, and pretends to reshape Russia's soft power in the years to come.