In the wake of the attempted murder by poisoning of a former spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter in Salisbury, Prime Minister Theresa May declared that no UK ministers or members of the British royal family will attend the tournament. Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson told MPs that Russia would face a “robust” response from the UK and that it would be “very difficult” to imagine UK representation at the World Cup could go ahead in the “normal way”.
Former FA executive director David Davies said he was opposed to any boycott, adding, “I don’t think the idea of pulling the team, or encouraging the FA to pull the team out of the World Cup on its own is seriously being considered at the moment, but times change of course.”
The Russian foreign ministry meanwhile told news agency Interfax that “(England) want to ‘punish’ us with a World Cup boycott.”
Russian Football Union vice-president Nikita Simonyan added: “What’s important, is whether the (England) team wants to come.”
England manager Gareth Southgate intends to discuss the situation with his squad and said he would not want players to make individual choices regarding whether to travel.
England fans are already steering clear of Russia, with demand for World Cup tickets plummeting. According to reports, England fans made just 24,125 requests for tickets in the first phase of ticket sales which ended in October, compared to 96,780 at the same stage ahead of the World Cup in Brazil.
A boycott would risk breaching Fifa’s tournament regulations, which dictate that “all participating member associations undertake to play all of their matches until eliminated from the Fifa World Cup”. Article 6 of those regulations states that any association that withdraws could face sanctions, “including the expulsion of the association concerned from subsequent Fifa competitions”.
It also says that any association which pulls out “no later than 30 days before the start” of the tournament would liable for a fine of at least 250,000 Swiss francs (£190,513), a penalty that would double if a withdrawal occurred less than 30 days before Russia 2018 kicks off.