It really wouldn’t be a Russian World Cup without at least one attempt at forcing national propaganda.
A group of Russian lawmakers led by Vitaly Milonov has proposed a law that would order a fine of 10,000 rubles (around $160 in U.S. money) for “verbally tormenting” athletes on the Russian national football team, according to a report from the Kremlin-controlled RT news outlet.
Russian bill would outlaw criticism of national team
The idea for the law came to Milonov only recently, according to RT, which explains why he’s getting around to proposing the bill while the World Cup is already underway. Milonov, who can likely relate to any Twitter troll who goes after writers that are negative about their beloved team, believes that criticizing the team hurts morale and is to blame for the team’s negative results.
“They represent our state and the scoundrels who insult them insult the whole nation,” Milonov said in an interview with Russian newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda. “Some idiots make fun of them and spoil their pre-game moods. If our footballers lose we should blame those who insulted our boys.”
It remains unclear how widespread enforcement of the law could reach in Russia and who it could apply to, but it’s a natural step for a country that already has an infamous history of propaganda and suppression of dissent.
Same Russian lawmaker that proposed gay propaganda ban
If Milonov’s name sounds familiar, he was also the lawmaker who initially proposed Russia’s infamous “gay propaganda” law. Under the guise of protecting traditional family values, the bill outlawed what the Russian government considered to be pro-gay propaganda accessible to minors, which was used to suppress any public support for gay rights. The law received massive international criticism ahead of the country’s hosting of the 2014 Olympics in Sochi.
Now, with another major sporting event putting Russia under the international spotlight, Milonov is proposing another way to control Russian free speech.
Russia’s World Cup outlook
Such a law likely wasn’t necessary during Russia’s first match of the World Cup, when it demolished Saudi Arabia 5-0 for the country’s first World Cup win since 2002. That might change real soon, as the team is scheduled to take on Egypt (possibly with Mohamed Salah) and Uruguay in the coming days.
Russia is ranked 70th in the world in FIFA’s rankings, the lowest team in the 2018 World Cup, and is about to face No. 14 and No. 45. The Russian team was gifted the statistically weakest group in World Cup history, but there’s reason to believe a decent amount of 10,000-ruble fines could be on the way.
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