July 23, 2014 / 12:53 PM / 3 years ago

Mourning Dutch postpone discussion on Russia World Cup

AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - The Dutch soccer association (KNVB) wants to postpone discussion over participation in the next World Cup in Russia as an angry country on Wednesday mourned victims of the Malaysian airliner shot down over Ukraine by Russian-backed separatists on a flight from Amsterdam last week.

Netherlands national soccer players pose for a team photo before their 2014 World Cup semi-finals against Argentina at the Corinthians arena in Sao Paulo July 9, 2014. REUTERS/Michael Dalder

The KNVB said in a statement it had received many questions over playing in the 2018 World Cup in Russia but felt a debate should be delayed while the country observed a national day of mourning.

All 298 people on board the Malaysian Airlines Boeing 777 died when it was brought down last Thursday over rebel-held territory in eastern Ukraine, where Kiev is struggling to quell a pro-Russian separatist rebellion.

Two-thirds of the victims were Dutch and the disaster has led to calls for strong sanctions against Russia, even if it hurts the Dutch economy, opinion polls published on Wednesday showed.

“The association is well aware that a future World Cup in Russia will stir a lot of emotion among Soccer lovers and the next of kin in the Netherlands,” the KNVB said.

“Standing still to remember our enormous loss is now the priority. The KNVB believes it would be more appropriate to hold the discussion over the future World Cup in Russia at a later time once the investigation into the disaster is completed.”

The Netherlands finished third at the World Cup in Brazil this month, but a national mood of euphoria has been replaced by shock, grief and anger.

With 193 of the dead from the Netherlands, Foreign Minister Frans Timmermans said almost every family in the country of 15 million knew someone who had died or their relatives.

Russia has blamed Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko for the crash because he refused to extend a ceasefire with the separatist fighters. Moscow denies supporting the separatists.

U.S. intelligence officials said on Tuesday that Washington believed pro-Russian separatists probably shot the plane down “by mistake,” not realizing it was a civilian passenger flight.

German politicians on Wednesday called on FIFA to move the World Cup from Russia.

“As long as Russian President Vladimir Putin is not an active participant in the investigation into the horror event and does not work against the separatists to ensure an immediate end to the conflict, a major sporting event like the World Cup in Russia in 2018 is unimaginable,” said Peter Beuth, chairman of the conference of sports ministers from Germany’s regional states.

Reporting by Mark Gleeson; Editing by Ed Osmond

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