FOOTBALL Federation Australia and Foreign Minister Julie Bishop say the Socceroos WILL be in Russia for the World Cup after confusion following comments by the Foreign Minister on Tuesday raising fears a boycott of the event was an option.
The Australia government expelled two Russian diplomats it believes are undeclared spies, joining other world powers in taking action over the Skripal affair in the UK.
Foreign Minister Bishop sparked concern amongst football supporters when she mentioned the World Cup as one way for the Australian government to protest further against the Russians.
However, she ended that concern with a clarifying Tweet on Tuesday afternoon.
Football Federation immediately sought clarity over the remark, which did not specify whether it was referring to a diplomatic measure – a protest that England, and Iceland, have already indicated they will do – or more.
“Football Federation Australia respects the Australian Government’s responsibility to make decisions about diplomatic and international relations,” an FFA spokesman told foxsports.com.au earlier.
“We have sought clarification regarding the Foreign Minister’s comments about the World Cup.
“As things stand all qualifying teams, including the England team, will be taking part in this FIFA event and that continues to be our intention.”
What’s more likely is that the Australian government joins the UK in a “state boycott” of the event, where no political leaders travel to Russia. British Prime Minister Theresa May has announced no ministers or royal family members will attend official events, including the opening ceremony, at the tournament.
Iceland, which will compete for the first time at the global showpiece after its surprise qualification, has followed suit.
If a government was to influence their football federation to boycott the World Cup, it would invoke an immediate suspension from FIFA, who do not allow government interference in a country’s football federation.
Speaking on Tuesday, Bishop, alongside Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said: “In relation to sanctions, Australia already has a range of autonomous sanctions against Russia, in particular those that were imposed in the aftermath of the illegal annexation of Crimea, and those sanctions have been reviewed and updated over time, so we have sanctions against a number of individuals and a number of Russian entities.
“The impact of sanctions, of course, is strongest when it is done collectively, and so we will continue to liaise with the [UK] Foreign Office and other allies and partners on this issue as to whether further action will be taken in response to the deployment of a chemical nerve agent in Salisbury.
“There are a whole range of further options of action that could be taken.
“The World Cup is one of the further actions that could be taken in relation to this matter.”
A report from London newspaper The Sun suggests Australia is one of a number of countries that are likely to join this action.
Mr Turnbull told reporters in Canberra the latest developments “reflects a pattern of recklessness and aggression by the Russian government”.
They include the annexation of Crimea, the invasion of eastern Ukraine and the downing of MH17, as well as efforts to manipulate western nations’ elections. The UK, United States and European allies of Britain have expelled 100 Russian diplomats over the nerve agent attack on former spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Salisbury, the biggest expulsion since the Cold War. Mr Turnbull said the latest incident had demanded a response. “To do nothing would only encourage further efforts to undermine the international rules-based order upon which our security and prosperity rely,” Mr Turnbull said.
Former Prime Minister Tony Abbott said it was absolutely right for Australia to take strong action against Moscow.
“I think that right around the world there is just this horror and revulsion at the idea that Putin’s death squads are stalking the streets of England,” he told reporters in Canberra.
“The idea that the leader of a serious country would be sending his death squads into the quiet provincial cities of England to stalk people who he regards as his enemies is absolutely and utterly abhorrent.” Menna Rawlings, the British High Commissioner to Australia, also welcomed the announcement.
“Thank you Malcolm Turnbull and Julie Bishop for your unwavering support,” Ms Rawlings posted to Twitter.
“Nerve agent use on British soil demands concerted diplomatic action to avoid culture of impunity and to support our collective security. Great to have Australia and others with us.” Australia has also joined calls for Russia to disclose the full extent of its chemical weapons program.
The government noted it also still had sanctions in place against Russia over its involvement in the downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 over Ukraine in 2014.
Mr Turnbull and security agencies briefed Opposition Leader Bill Shorten on the expulsion ahead of the announcement.
“There is no doubt that the actions Russians had taken in England has caused international outrage and that Australia along with many of its allies is taking commensurate responses to it,” Mr Shorten told reporters in Canberra. “These are undeclared agents and so therefore it is inappropriate that they be in Australia.” Leading national security analyst Peter Jennings, from the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, says Russia will almost certainly respond by expelling some Australian diplomats.
– additional reporting from AAP