London (AFP) – Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho has been accused by a British MP of taking “blood money” in deciding to work as a World Cup pundit for Russian state-owned channel RT.
RT risks losing its licence to broadcast in Britain if UK authorities conclude that Moscow was behind a nerve agent attack in Salisbury, southern England that saw a Russian former double agent poisoned on March 4.
Mourinho’s television role at this year’s World Cup in Russia was announced a day after the Salisbury incident but the Portuguese boss has since repeatedly refused to answer questions about his position as a pundit.
Chris Bryant, an opposition Labour MP for the Welsh constituency of Rhondda, told Britain’s Press Association news agency on Tuesday: “To my mind, this is blood money, paid directly from the Russian state coffers.”
RT, formerly known as Russia Today, was set up in the mid-2000s to counter what Russian President Vladimir Putin saw as the dominance of American and British international media organisations and their allegedly pro-Western bias.
The channel is seen by its critics as giving a platform to conspiracy theorists as well as far-right or anti-establishment figures who emphasise Western hypocrisy or corruption.
Several lawmakers called for a ban on RT on Monday after British Prime Minister Theresa May said it was “highly likely” that Russia was behind the attack on former double agent Sergei Skripal.
Mourinho is not the only high-profile football figure connected to RT, with former Manchester United goalkeeper Peter Schmeichel and ex-Liverpool winger Stan Collymore also working for the channel.
British politicians have appeared on RT, where former Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond hosts a talk show.
Bryant’s fellow Welsh Labour MP Stephen Doughty urged Mourinho to reconsider his position.
“Serious questions are already being asked about participation in the Russian-hosted World Cup,” he said. “I would urge leading football figures to rethink — not least after this week’s revelations — whether their punditry on Putin’s mouthpiece is appropriate.”
England’s governing Football Association has yet to make any comment on what Britain’s worsening political relationship with Russia would mean in terms of the World Cup.
But a boycott is considered highly unlikely as it would put the FA on a collision course with global football governing body FIFA, whose regulations insist member national authorities must run the sport in their respective countries without “outside interference” from the government or any other parties.
Earlier, British broadcasting regulator Ofcom announced: “We have today written to ANO TV Novosti, holder of RT’s UK broadcast licences, which is financed from the budget of the Russian Federation.
“This letter explained that, should the UK investigating authorities determine that there was an unlawful use of force by the Russian state against the UK, we would consider this relevant to our ongoing duty to be satisfied that RT is fit and proper.”
Moscow responded with a threat to bar all British media working in Russia if RT was banned from Britain.
Mourinho’s United are at home to Spanish club Sevilla in a Champions League tie at Old Trafford later Tuesday.
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