IN the cosseted world of international football there’s very little that separates empathy and condescension. The Ukrainian people who have seen their country violated by a psychotic warmonger must know the difference by now. As Russia’s invasion soon enters its sixth month they’ll see a gradual decline in the little yellow and blue flags that adorned the hashtags of their new army of international admirers. And they’ll know that, for many, the Ukrainian colours have been deployed as currency in the endless social media quest for approval.

Yet, the immediate outpouring of empathy based on little more than a primeval instinct which views Russia as ‘bad’ and the West as ‘good’ is understandable. What will irk this proud people is outright condescension. And there’s little more condescending and patronising than high-profile Scots signalling their desire for Ukraine to beat Scotland in tonight’s World Cup qualifying semi-final.

Ukraine are a very fine international football team whose players currently grace some of the best leagues in the world. They don’t need any help and are more than capable of defeating Scotland on their own merits. I don’t think any of their players would appreciate getting an easy passage to this summer’s World Cup in Qatar on a wave of sympathy.

And I doubt too they’d appreciate prominent Scots such as our former international captain Graeme Souness lending them their support in these circumstances. Competing in the world’s premier sporting extravaganza will represent pride and defiance in the face of Putin’s aggression, but doing so having earned it without any favours or performative sympathy will mean even more.

And besides, you quickly get into choppy and uncertain waters when you attempt to appeal to higher values in international football. By simply agreeing to participate in elite international football tournaments you are already making deals with the devil. If Scotland were to reach their first major football tournament in 25 years they would stand accused of actively endorsing a Qatari regime which routinely tramples on the human rights of its own people.

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