I’m going to try and keep this editorial as politically neutral as possible for the purpose of focusing on the USMNT and 2018 World Cup. 

For those who have been following American politics over the past year, one foreign nation has been constantly brought up as a topic of discussion: Russia. The United States and Russia have always had a contentious relationship with one another and allegations against the European country for tampering in the 2016 election simply threw kindling on the fire.

With news and hearsay continuing to leak regarding the alleged tampering, including to what extent did the tampering effect the election and who all the parties involved in the tampering were, it seems the diplomatic relationship between the two countries is careening toward Cold War-era shakiness. 

Given how the investigations surrounding the alleged tampering are starting to reach a head, with potential charges being brought any month now, it’s important to look out how it might effect the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

Ultimately, if charges are brought against Russia for undermining and tampering the 2016 general election, will the United States mens national soccer team be pressured to boycott the 2018 World Cup if they qualify for it.

Now, before anyone starts jumping to conclusions, it’s important to note that we are a ways away from politicians pressuring the USMNT to boycott the World Cup. While the team did score a 2-0 win over Trinidad and Tobago at home Thursday, the team is still a long way from locking in their birth to the tournament. With the team expected to lose to Mexico on the road later today, the team still needs to pickup a handful of wins before feeling safe that they secured an automatic qualifying spot. 

We’re also a long way from determining if the Russian government had any direct links with the alleged hackings that effected the 2016 general election in some manner. If the investigations are unable to show any direct links to the Kremlin and only that the hackers came from Russia, then there is no reason for the USMNT to boycott the tournament. Also, if investigations do show a direct link between the hackings and the Kremlin, we have no idea what the United States might charge Russia with and how severe the punishment would be. 

What’s also important to note is that boycotting an international tournament such as the World Cup will have ramifications for the USMNT. The country is in the process of bidding for the 2026 World Cup and a boycott in 2018 would likely eliminate that 2026 bid and subsequent bids for the foreseeable future. Tournaments such as the World Cup are meant to bridge the various political divides across the world and be a place where the sport of soccer triumphs over diplomatic disagreements. 

All of this being said, the United States government does have recent history with regards to boycotting an international tournament being held in a unfriendly nation.

In 1980, the United States famously boycotted the Summer Olympics in Moscow as a direct response to the Soviet-Afghan War. President Jimmy Carter attempted to diplomatically persuade the Soviet Union to pull out of Afghanistan with an Olympics boycott on the negotiation table. When the USSR passed the set deadline to pull out, Carter began pressuring US allies to join the US in boycotting the Summer Olympics. This all, of course, shortly after the USSR ended up sending a contingent to the Winter Olympics in Lake Placid earlier that year. 

In total, sixty-six countries boycotted the 1980 Summer Olympics. This is the starkest contrast between a potential boycott of the 2018 World Cup. If the US chooses to go down the boycott route, for whatever reason, they could very well be doing so alone.

While many European counties might have also had their recent elections targeted by Russian hackers, the US investigations still have by far the most teeth in the present stage. It’s also worth noting that, for the 1980 Summer Olympics, the only European counties to boycott the games were West Germany, Norway and Albania. Many European countries which might align with the US would be far more effected economically if they chose to boycott the 2018 World Cup. 

It’s also worth pointing out that many of the United States’s potential allies might not even qualify for the World Cup, including the US itself. For example, Canada has no reason to join a boycott since they’ve already been eliminated. Many 1980 allies in Asia and Africa are unlikely to qualify with many Middle Eastern countries feeling no need to defend the US by giving up a World Cup birth. 

What’s interesting how the question over boycotting the 2018 World Cup has been pushed aside by US Soccer president Sunil Gulati. When asked by Grant Wahl in February on his podcast if the USMNT would consider boycotting the 2018 World Cup, Gulati said the US would consider the thought of boycotting the World Cup “at this stage in time.” If allegations are brought against the Russian government for interfering with the US elections and potentially tampering voting results, it remains to be seen what Gulati would think then.

There has also been almost zero pressure from Washington against US Soccer to boycott the 2018 World Cup for whatever reason (the US also looks down up the country’s invasion of Ukraine as well as the recent uptick in anti-gay policies).

As the calendar slowly progresses toward the 2018 World Cup kickoff and it becomes more and more clear if the USMNT will earn a spot in the tournament, calls for a boycott will become increasingly louder. If concrete charges are brought forth against the Russian government for election interference, expect those calls to reach a fever pitch on at least one side of the aisle. 

We’re still a long way away from it becoming more noticeable but, if the USMNT is pressured to boycott the 2018 World Cup, what will their response be.