There are about two million stray dogs, according to The Guardian, in total at the 11 World Cup host cities in Russia and animal rights activists are claiming officials are silently putting a good number of them to death. Dog lovers and animal activists have flooded social media with pleas to halt the practice. It was widely alleged that thousands of street dogs were sent to their doom ahead of the 2014 Sochi Winter Games by state-sponsored “death squads”.
According to Ekaterina Dmitrieva, director of the City Animal Protection Foundation, an amount equivalent to £1.4million has been set aside by the government for the “slaughtering” of dogs. The claims have not been verified as yet. An online petition on change.org called “Stop Killing Homeless Animals in Russia! Stop Bloody FIFA 2018!” has been launched and has garnered more than 19.5 lakh signatures till now. “..help us STOP the awful practice our country has of killing homeless animals in the run-up to international sporting events,” the petition reads.
Chas Newkey-Burden, a British journalist and author, wrote that the death squads resort to killing the dogs with poisoned food and hitting them with blow darts. Russian officials have denied any such practice and have maintained that euthanasia is strictly against their policy. But activists refuse to believe the government, especially after pictures of carcasses went viral ahead of the Sochi Olympics.
After a government-run programme in Moscow to capture, sterilise, vaccinate and release stray dogs was abandoned in 2008, the animals are now sent to 13 designated “overcrowded” shelters. Russian member of parliament Vladimir Burmatov visited a shelter in Yekaterinburg ahead of the World Cup and was left disappointed with what he saw. He felt pained at seeing the plight of the “malnourished dogs and conditions that you couldn’t even call satisfactory”. Burmatov also claimed that several dogs were put to death unnecessarily at the shelters. Activists are calling for FIFA to insert an animal welfare clause into the contract for hosts of all future tournaments.
A threat of biblical proportions? The organisers have probably a million issues to deal with, and one of them concerns a certain species of grasshoppers — locusts. Russia’s agriculture ministry earlier this year expressed concern over a possible locust invasion that could leave lush-green turfs stripped bare. “One way or another, we have learnt how to deal with locusts, but how do we not fall into a global scandal with locusts this year? The whole world is coming here. Football fields are green. Locusts love it where there is lots of green. How would they not come to the place where football is being played?” Pyotr Chekmarev, head of the agriculture ministry’s crop farming department, said at an event earlier this year.