England should ‘send a message’ to Russia by wearing black armbands, says MP

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England’s players should make a political stand against Russia by wearing black armbands during the World Cup, Labour MP Stephen Kinnock has said.

Kinnock advocated stripping Russia of the tournament and postponing it for a year during a parliamentary debate in March, held following the poisoning of former spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter on the streets of Salisbury.

But with the tournament set to proceed as planned he believes the onus now falls on the Three Lions to protest against the policies of the Vladimir Putin regime.

The award of the World Cup to Putin's Russia was hugely controversial
The award of the World Cup to Putin’s Russia was hugely controversial (Alexander Zemlianichenko/AP)

“The World Cup is a massive propaganda coup for the Kremlin and it should never have gone there in the first place,” he told Press Association Sport.

“We are using the beautiful game to launder the reputation of a dangerous authoritarian regime and that poses some major questions. We should think creatively about what we might be able to do to send a message.

“The FA pulling out would have been wrong because it would have made it look like a bilateral issue between Russia and the UK. But there are universal human rights norms, universal ways in which countries behave towards each other and Russia is in violation of those norms.

“Maybe we should seriously consider wearing a black armband in our first match, or in all our matches, to mark the death of Alexander Litvinenko, the attack on Mr Skripal and his daughter on British territory and the vicious injury to a member of our police force.”

Any kind of stand by England would be in contravention of FIFA’s rules against players wearing political, religious or commercial symbols, and be would be considered a major escalation on the FA’s decision to display the poppy on armbands in 2016 – a battle they ultimately won.

Kinnock, who represents the Welsh constituency of Aberavon, understands it would not be an easy or universally popular decision to make such a statement at one of the world’s biggest sporting events but feels the players’ collective star power is a resource too precious to waste.

England players have worn the poppy armband in recent November internationals
England players have worn the poppy armband in recent November internationals (Mike Egerton/PA)

“I suspect every single member of the English football team has more Twitter followers than any politician we have so they can send a really big political signal. They are role models to our young people and I do think this is an issue of our morals, our values and our ethics.

“It would great if they were able to say ‘we’re here in Russia now, but what’s happened on the streets of the United Kingdom raises concerns for all of us. An attack on one is an attack on all’.”

Stephen Kinnock speaking in the House of Commons
Stephen Kinnock speaking in the House of Commons (PA Archive)

“Imagine if we were to make it a World Cup of peace?” he said.

“What about for the period of the World Cup all hostilities in Syria were to stop? A humanitarian corridor could be created through to the war zone in Syria and, if Russia were to facilitate that, that would be a far bigger boost to Russia’s standing in the world.”

Kinnock’s words are unlikely to be matched by actions on the field, with manager Gareth Southgate declaring in March he held “little interest” in foreign secretary Boris Johnson’s thoughts on the World Cup.

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