The 2018 World Cup could be moved from Russia if tough new political sanctions proposed by David Cameron go through.
The British Prime Minister proposed taking away the world's largest soccer tournament during a summit of European Union leaders in Brussels. Cameron wants Russia to be ostracized from high-profile international events as a punishment for sending troops into Ukraine.
"The idea of taking the World Cup away from Russia has come up in talks between European leaders. Britain especially has pushed it as a way of taking broader and more imaginative measures against Russia," said a senior European diplomat.
Reports indicate that stripping Russia of the 2018 World Cup could go along with other "symbolic" political actions meant to strip Putin of his sense of prestige, including barring him from international summits.
"The existing sanctions have not yet changed Russian behavior and we need to be more imaginative," said another senior EU official.
World leaders have been united in seeking action against Russia, which has sent more than 1,000 troops into Ukraine to back Russia-aligned rebels. Barack Obama said at a news conference this week that the United States will push for further economic sanctions against Russia. Angela Merkel, German chancellor, also backed sanctions.
"We are getting reports of an increased presence of Russian soldiers and of new unrest and fresh advances of the separatists in areas that until now were very quiet," she said. "We made it clear in March this year that if there were a further escalation, more sanctions would have to be discussed."
Leaders have shied away from proposing military intervention, instead focusing on tough sanctions aimed at hurting Russia's economic interests.
If the 2018 World Cup is moved, it could create a crisis for FIFA, which has already been rocked by allegations of fraud in the awarding of the 2022 World Cup to Qatar.
Vladimir Putin said he hopes FIFA, soccer's international governing body, will not succumb to political pressure to move the 2018 World Cup.