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Boris Johnson, a man who once suggested that voting Tory "will cause your wife to have bigger breasts," has had some rational thoughts on the coming World Cup in Russia.

He is against it. Emphatically so.

Johnson agreed this week that visiting Russia for a fun kick around today is rather like visiting Germany for an afternoon of pole-vaulting back in the thirties.

"I think the comparison with 1936 is certainly right," Johnson, Britain's foreign secretary, said this week. "It's an emetic prospect, frankly, to think of [Vladimir] Putin glorying in this sporting event."

Which leaves one wondering – what does "emetic" mean? And exactly how bad a prospect is it?

(Checks the OED). Oh, it's bad.

Well, that's that then. I suppose England won't be going, what with all the Nazi-adjacent symbolism and resultant projectile vomiting.

But while Johnson is against a Russian World Cup, he isn't against it against it. Not in the way you'd be against spending your next family vacation camping on a collapsing Antarctic ice shelf. Which is to say, you would not do it under any circumstances.

Rather, Johnson would like to be seen being against going to Russia, while also going there. He waved away calls to boycott the event as wrong-headed because it would be "incredibly unfair to punish the team."

This is the crooked spoke in Britain's multipronged rejoinder to an assassination attempt on its soil, and one that neuters all the others.

The Russians were so cowed by Johnson's outburst they responded with a pun, calling him "poisoned with hatred and anger."

As the gormlessness of Johnson's out-but-also-in position marinated, one of his caucus colleagues tried to help out by tightening the logical knot.

"The best response frankly to all of this would be for England to go to the World Cup in Russia and win it," said British Sport Secretary Matt Hancock. "If we won it we would be demonstrating that we have got the best football team in the world and it should be about that."

I can't find video of this statement, so it's difficult to be sure exactly how hard Hancock was waving his pompoms as he said it.

He makes some good points, but for two things – England will win the World Cup like I will win Dancing With The Stars; and reasonable people will agree that that's not what it "should be about."

No great nation has ever based its defence policy on the idea that 'if you kill one of ours, we will hope to bathe in a confetti shower in front of all of yours.' At least, until now.

This is a new low in the prevailing consensus on Big Sporting Events in Fairly Bad Places. That it is the event that matters, rather than what participating in it says about the people doing so.

It's leading otherwise reasonable people into all sorts of moral compromises because to stand up for basic principles might cause some upset down at the pub on Saturday afternoon.

Of course, this happens all the time at the Olympics – representatives of the good guys lining up against athletes representing bad guys. But occasional nose-holding is a necessary component of the Games. They were designed as the world's only all-inclusive, neutral gathering spot.

At its best, the Olympics has more to do with global amity than athletics. If it doesn't always work out that way in practice, it is at least a lovely theory, and so worth protecting.

The World Cup is a different beast. It's a rapaciously for-profit endeavour open only to invitees. As only eight of the world's 200-odd countries have ever won it, it is profoundly elitist. It routinely loots host countries, and so has become most attractive to the desperate and/or conniving and/or nine of 10 Canadian provinces.

There is no compelling diplomatic reason to go, other than to supply the masses with an especially potent opiate. On a political level, a World Cup is pure jingoism.

There's nothing wrong with that, as such. People need distractions and soccer is an especially effective one.

If it is possible to appreciate a work of art without endorsing the artist, it follows that you can enjoy sport without signing on to every bit of dirty business involved in its staging.

That's the point most viewers have reached (e.g. playing in the NFL will kill some people, but since I like watching the NFL and no one is being forced to participate in it at gunpoint, I will continue holding a Super Bowl party).

No one is truly conflicted by any of this because if they were, they wouldn't do it. At most, they will feel vaguely guilty. Preferably online, where other people can see them doing it.

There are all sorts of perfectly reasonable ways for a fan to feel about the moral implications of sporting events – caring; not caring; existing somewhere in between.

But it is not a good look for politicians.

One of many dispiriting trends in 21st-century statesmanship is the preference for hyperbolic public hand-wringing over principled stands. It's become a bizarre sort of catechism, as though saying a thing at loudest possible volume in the most hysteric terms were the same as doing it.

Johnson is knee-deep in this usually meaningless sophistry. Except in this case it is making the country he represents seem terminally ineffectual.

Perhaps this is all a necessary curative in curtailing the shrill tone struck going forward (though if Johnson can get away with this one – as he appears to have – there really is no limit).

If you believe you are giving succour to someone as bad as Hitler, you ought not to do that.

If you do not believe it, you ought not to say that.

And if you find yourself somewhere in the middle, you ought to admit that your prevailing interest is not in doing the right thing as you yourself have described it, but in making sure the game goes off on time.

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