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14 Mar, 2017 10:01

2018 World Cup Russia bearing the brunt of information war

2018 World Cup Russia bearing the brunt of information war

Russia is fighting a propaganda war on many fronts yet lost most battles in sports. The "absolute war” against Russia takes no prisoners, but despite two recent defeats, a stunning victory in the information war has light at the end of the tunnel.

The commercialization and politicization of a sporting ‘civil war’ generates greater profits than regular news. While news watchers and political correspondents pretend to be relevant in an increasingly polarized political debate, the information battles fought in the arena have longer lasting consequences. The sports propaganda war on Russia is heating up. Two information campaigns in recent prove the point.

Fear and loathing in Russia

Firstly, the reaction to a puerile mockumentary film and secondly, a self-inflicted black mark, typical of Russia in this propaganda war.
The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) commissioned a cheap and cheerless hooligan porn piece, Russia’s Hooligan Army, that I’m glad I avoided working on. Asked to assist, I declined on two points. 1. They weren’t interested in an honest portrayal of Russia, 2. The director’s background. You either report honestly or not at all. There is much money to be made in joining the anti-Russia media pack. Many of those taking foreign silver are no more committed to proper journalism than those here who failed to counter it.

Once I heard the “documentary filmmaker” was Alex Stockley von Statzer, I did a quick check, spoke with some contacts and refused. He’s skilled in producing interesting and sensational TV pieces like Kinky Britain or worse, but not real news content.

Called a ‘journalist’ by Russian media, he made a successful propaganda piece and he woke some up to a fact I’ve repeatedly made since 2010, that Russia could lose the right to host the 2018 World Cup. This mockumentary began the scramble to preserve the World Cup for Russia and led directly to the second information battle.

Former Russian National Team Captain Alexei Smertin’s appointment by the Russian Football Union (RFU) as Anti-racism and Discrimination Inspector was a great move badly handled. Fluent in French and English, an English Premier League winner with Chelsea and a sub-3 hour marathon runner, he’s perfect, but his appointment was universally ridiculed. While some articles were harsher than others, even the gentlest hosted a poll asking “Should Russia be stripped of the 2018 World Cup, even at this late stage?”. The ‘Strip Russia’ brigade was dancing to the anti-Russia political tune.

Like BBC’s mockumentary, the damage was again largely self-inflicted. It allowed the painfully biased CNN to elicit negative commentary over Russia and Russians without recognizing the irony of embedding an excellent piece of work by Copa90 in their diatribe. Copa90 explore negative issues in football while achieving a balance major media outlets choose to ignore as they desperately fight for audience and advertisers. Major media outlets exploit base instincts to divide people; as dialogue and cooperation are fearful. However this past week they suffered, when people ignored fear-mongering and met, making good things happen.

Once the UEFA Europa League 1st knockout round pitted FC Rostov (from Southern Russia) against legendary Manchester United of England, I awaited the media scare storm. Articles closer to the histrionic Guardian review of the mockumentary claiming Putin led the hooligan army, rather than a professional review based on intelligent observation and actual knowledge of football. As with Manchester’s visit to Odessa, in December 2016, to play Zorya Luhansk, their fans were warned of being at risk wearing club colors in Rostov. These standard warnings came from Manchester United to cover the club in all eventualities. A simple insurance move as the club paid for all fans visas. Naturally, normality was ignored almost entirely by media to heighten tension.

A ‘gentlefan’ celebration

To borrow from Claus von Clausewitz, the maxim of “absolute war” was eagerly awaited by one sports editor who sent his correspondent a ‘Battle on the Don’ headline suggestion. He hoped for fan war breaking out on the streets. Instead, something magical happened. Supporters met, drank, sang, took photos with one another, exchanged scarfs, handshakes, hugs and smiles. Rostov fans produced t-shirts and blankets for the Manchester United fans (in Manchester colors - red and white), winning acclaim from the club and British media. The #Gentlefan assault did more for Russia, home and away, than some inadequate idiots disgracing the country in France last summer.

Some misguided headlines are misleading and mean for a reason. Playing to the gallery they titillate and generate revenue. Violence, or the threat of, sells. As in news media, sports media know if it bleeds, it leads. It’s why doping is tolerated, why painkillers are handed out like candy to athletes and why depraved pack mentality unites nations.

All the while there is a strain of normality and human decency, defying the demanded behavior. People meeting and interacting breaks down barriers. Barriers that have been artificially constructed by the media, business, and political interests for them to remain relevant.

The old guard, whether they be racist or ignorant hooligan leaders, self-appointed civic leaders or simply those with power and/or money, they profit dividing people and keeping them fearful of one another. Their interest is moralizing on societal decay and the pathetic majority who enjoy pastimes they find repugnant.

Meryl Streep, for example, gave voice to this tiny minority’s view at this year’s Golden Globes awards. Using her power to peevishly attack Donald Trump and popular pastimes when she could have addressed a deeply troubling situation within Hollywood. However, defending child actors won’t win her roles or baubles.

The light at the end of the tunnel is not a freight train coming our way. It’s a guide to how we can improve things on a social level. Ignoring the fear-mongering of mainstream media and vested political interests, we can interact at a personal level and make a real difference.

The FIFA Confederations Cup this summer and the World Cup next year will mean more than any amount of expensive propaganda, forums or summits. People will meet, interact and barriers will be removed. The World will finally see in 2018, at the greatest event of all, that Russians are excellent hosts. Sport won’t just be a mere continuation of war and politics by other means, it’ll be a complete game changer. Russian hospitality will triumph over propaganda and fake news.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.