Negotiations are intense:
Less than ten days before the opening game of the FIFA world soccer games, the rules are being negotiated!
The Russians are pushing the Saudis for firmer offside rules. This is widely regarded as a tactical move to shield themselves from the immense speed of Yasir Al Shahrani, the star in the Saudi team.
This is controversial in several different ways. The first part of the controversy is that the Russians do not want this firmer offside rule to apply in all games. On the contrary. The Russian delegation is fervently negotiating to get the Egyptians to agree to a more relaxed offside rules. This is generally expected to favor their main striker, Fjodor Smolov, who is adept at scoring in messy situations. Also, the Russians expect that their goalkeeper has better reflexes than the 45 year old Egyptian goal keeper.
Reportedly, FIFA is appalled, but cannot stop this. If both teams agree to a rule change, who is FIFA to deny them?
Still, this is something that has never been tried before, at least not on this scale or this level.
The Russian bargaining tool, no doubt, is military operations in the middle east. The nature of the precise promises and/or threats is not known, but both the Egyptian president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi and the Saudi crown prince Mohammad bin Salman are reportedly applying intense pressure on their football associations to accept the Russian demands.
The fourth team in the group, however, has flatly denied taking part in any negotiations about rule changes. This is hardly surprising. In Uruguay soccer is a religion and the Russians have found no useful leverage to apply on the Uruguay delegation and/or politicians. This is not a major problem, however, since Uruguay is the group favorite. For Russia to make it to the next round, they only need second place in the group.
FIFA officials see this development as a major risk to the game of soccer, both in the upcoming FIFA World Cup, for professional athletes in Champions League and their billions of fans and as a great activity for billions of youngsters around the world.
If power in the form of military force and/or money is allowed to alter the rules from game to game the very fun of the game will be lost. The richest team will always have an advantage. These negotiation could be the beginning of the end of soccer as we know it, one FIFA official concedes.
As you may have guessed, this article is not really about soccer, or about Russia. It is not about FIFA but about world trade and the “America First” policy that is leading the world away from commonly agreed rules (WTA) toward a bilateral trade agreements that could end the age of free trade that has created world wide prosperity and lifted a million people out of poverty every month for the last thirty years.