Today in the next part of our 2018 FIFA World Cup series, we will talk about some of the, well, less pleasant moments of the Russian edition of World Cup football. The tournament was marred with allegations from the moment the former Soviet republic won the bid to host sport’s most prestigious tournament. This list will be in no particular order as ranking controversies, and dark spots in our beautiful game would amount to disrespect. Without further ado, let’s dig in.
In 2015, Swiss prosecutors launched an inquiry into the 2018 and 2022 World Cup bidding process, which was won by Russia and Qatar, respectively. Further investigations were launched by US prosecutors, with Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and Internal Revenue Services – Criminal Investigation (IRS – CI).
Their allegations of wire fraud, racketeering, and money laundering against FIFA and officials of African Football associations led to several VIP arrests. However, the 350-page Garcia Report cleared the Russian and Qatar federation of any wrongdoings. The blessing in disguise of this story was that it led to a clean-up of the dirt in football’s highest body – leading to the removal of then-President of FIFA for 17 years – Sepp Blatter.
A list of controversies in football tournament right from the World Cup can never be complete without a mention of Video Assistant Referee (VAR). Football’s biggest tournament was set to become the first tournament to have this new technology for its entirety. There are too many VAR controversies to list from that summer, but the most influential was one at the end. France’s appeal for a handball by Perisic was turned down by Nestor Pitana. However, on review, the referee awarded a penalty to France. This swung the tide in France’s favor, and there was no stopping them after that.
A reporter in The Guardian had correctly pointed out the problem with VAR. For factual decisions like offside and mistaken identity, it is a reliable tool – but, in case of a subjective decision like fouls and penalties, it becomes a nuisance. With the referee’s exposure to such a modern volatile technology under immense pressure under the world’s watchful eyes – it surely wouldn’t have been easy. Not that it’s been smooth ever since.
The last controversy we are going to look at was due to a rather unconventional and even unknown rule. Group H saw Japan and Senegal finish level on points, with the stranger thing being that they had the same goal difference, the same number of goals scored, and a 2-2 draw in their head-to-head. This triggered the “fair play rule,” which states that the team with the least number of yellow cards will progress in scenarios like this. Having been made aware of this rule, Japan played conservatively and avoided bookings even though they were trailing 1-0 to Poland. This invited boos from the fans, but the job was done for the Asian giants.