A top senator in Russia said on Thursday he had credible evidence of the United States plotting to “discredit” the 2018 World Cup his country is staging for the first time.
The claim came as Russia prepares to host the June 14-July 15 global showpiece in the heat of a diplomatic war with the West over disputes ranging from Ukraine and Syria to Moscow’s alleged interference in the 2016 US presidential election.
The Federation Council upper house of parliament’s new ‘protection of state sovereignty commission’ chief Andrei Klimov said the issue would be addressed at a meeting attended by the foreign ministry and sports officials on Tuesday.
“The commission has received credible evidence showing that American government officials are directly steering their European colleagues into using the subject of sport to the utmost to discredit Russia in 2018,” Klimov said.
“We have grounds to believe that an attack will occur on the football World Cup,” he told the RIA Novosti state news agency.
The senator added that Russia “will have to take retaliatory measures” but offered no hint about what kind of attack he thought Washington was preparing.
The United States did not qualify for the World Cup and will thus avoid the politically-charged potential of facing Russia at a time when their diplomatic relations are near a post-Soviet low.
Moscow has found itself under assault in sport and politics alike.
Russia’s upper house backed a law on Wednesday that would force international media outlets to register as “foreign agents” — retaliation for Washington’s requirement for the Kremlin-backed RT television channel to do the same.
It is also facing a wide-ranging doping investigation that threatens Russia’s participation in the 2018 Winter Olympic Games in the South Korean city of Pyeongchang from February 9-25.
Russian Kremlin supremo Vladimir Putin this month called the probe a US attempt to interfere in the March presidential election he is widely expected to contest and win.
Klimov also called Russia’s potential ban from the Games a part of the US mater plan to damage its Cold War-era rival.
“It is not important whether it is football or the winter sports events,” he separately told Russia’s TASS news agency.
“What is important to them is to use sport as a club aimed at our state and society.” Russia on Wednesday also withdrew its bid to host the 2023 FIBA Basketball World Cup in protest at the alleged bias against its athletes.
“Considering the global sporting community’s attitude towards Russian athletes and our sport as a whole, we have decided not to contest the right to host the World Cup,” Russian Basketball Association president Andrei Kirilenko said in a statement.