Should England withdraw from the FIFA World Cup in Russia?

The Cold War seems well and truly alive following a frosting of relations between Great Britain and Russia over the past few weeks.

There have been tensions for some time, but the recent poisoning controversy in Salisbury has upped the ante somewhat.

Prime Minister Theresa May made a statement suggesting that it was “highly likely” that the Russian State was responsible for the attempted murder of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia.

Russian diplomats have been expelled from the UK and government ministers and the Royal Family are not attending the FIFA World Cup in Russia later this year.

But there have been suggestions that England should go further and withdraw from the competition entirely, to send a clear message that the Russian regime is being snubbed by one of the world’s leading football nations.

One MP, Bernard Jenkin, was categorical in his condemnation of Russia and its politicians, suggesting on BBC Radio 5live that there was no way that England should compete this summer and that he would be telling the Prime Minister as much.

Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson then suggested that Russian President Vladimir Putin will use the World Cup in Russia as a propaganda tool in the same way as Hitler's notorious use of the 1936 Berlin Olympic Games.

Hitler used the 1936 Games as an opportunity to showcase Nazi might – until Jesse Owens won four gold medals in track and field.

Remember it was less than 40 years ago that the Olympic Games were tarnished by boycotts, with the United States refusing to travel to Moscow to compete in 1980.

Ironically, Owens lobbied then-US President Jimmy Carter to cancel the Olympic boycott; which the Russians returned by boycotting the Los Angeles Olympic Games in 1984.

These partial boycotts may well have resulted in some political point-scoring but the shows still went on and medals were won.

But for the athletes taking part, it was the removal of an opportunity to compete on the biggest stage, and one which many of them would never have again.

Calacus has worked with athletes who have faced political obstacles aimed at preventing them competing for their country in high profile competition, some of whom still lament the missed competition years later.

Only when a boycott is unilateral can it have any hope of making an impact, such as in South Africa during the Apartheid era when the national cricket team and Springboks rugby team were unable to participate in international competition.

Partial boycotts do not work, nor will England withdrawing from World Cup 2018 have any bearing on the spectacle or wider global appeal of the tournament.

England manager Gareth Southgate has made it clear that he wants his team to go to Russia this summer, as long as their safety and security can be assured, but admitted that the matter was out of his hands.

In a statement, the FA said it will “continue to work closely with the UK government and relevant authorities. Our priority for all England matches is to ensure the safety and security of the fans, players and staff. As is standard practice, we will take all travel guidance from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.”

For those players hoping to be on the plane to Russia, such a move would rob them of playing at the very highest level.

And let’s not forget that with rising tensions in Korea, the Winter Olympic Games in PyeongChang actually saw politicians from North and South meet for the first time.

An England team playing well and engaging with Russia this summer could well have a similar impact in strengthening relations while politicians seem to weaken them.