Sports bodies move further to isolate and condemn Russia

Sports bodies across Europe moved Monday to further isolate and condemn Russia following its invasion of Ukraine by refusing to host or play against teams from the country.

Finland wants the Russian hockey team to be banned from the men’s world championships it will host in May, the Swiss soccer federation said its women’s team will not play Russia in July at the European Championship, and German soccer club Schalke said it had decided to end its longstanding partnership with Russian state-owned energy giant Gazprom.

However, the wave of opposition to Russian teams and athletes has not yet extended to a ban. Nor has the International Olympic Committee suspended Russia or Belarus, which has allowed its land to be used for troops and launching military strikes against Ukraine.

FIFA, the governing body of soccer, has so far declined to ban Russia from the World Cup. The Russian team, which FIFA said will have to compete as Football Union of Russia as punishment, had been scheduled to host Poland on March 24 in a World Cup qualifying play-off. But Poland and Russia’s next potential opponents, Sweden and the Czech Republic, have all said they would refuse to take the field.

“The Swedish Football Association is disappointed with FIFA’s decision but is determined to continue to work together with other federations to cancel Russia’s matches in the upcoming World Cup qualifiers,” the body said Monday, citing the “illegal and deeply unjust invasion of Ukraine.”

The World Cup is scheduled to begin on Nov. 21 in Qatar.

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In European club soccer, Russian team Spartak Moscow is still scheduled to play next week in the Europa League against German club Leipzig. European governing body UEFA allowed Spartak to take its place in the round of 16 draw on Friday, one day after Vladimir Putin ordered the invasion to start.

There is precedent for removing Russian teams from sports. In 1992, following United Nations sanctions, FIFA and UEFA expelled Yugoslavia from its competitions when war broke out in the Balkans.

Besides Schalke’s effort to drop Gazprom as a partner, UEFA is also expected to see if it can nullify its sponsorship deals with the company. Gazprom sponsors both the Champions League and the European Championship.

FIFA has attracted the most criticism among sports bodies for allowing Russia to continue competing, at least for now, in the World Cup qualifying playoffs. It has kept open the option of a ban.

Instead of banning the team, FIFA attempted to compromise by ordering Russia to play at neutral venues without its flag and anthem and under the name of its federation — the Football Union of Russia.

That aligns with sanctions imposed by the Court of Arbitration for Sport in December 2020 to punish Russia for state-backed doping and cover-ups of cheating, and applied at last year’s Tokyo Olympics and this year’s Winter Games in Beijing.

The Russian soccer team was already due to play under those conditions if they qualified for the World Cup because of the doping scandals. FIFA’s decision to apply the conditions to a regional sports event — European qualification games — is the only element of punishment for the war.

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If Russia were to play Poland as scheduled on March 24 and win, the team would then face either Sweden or the Czech Republic on March 29.

Swedish soccer federation president Karl-Erik Nilsson, who is also the senior vice president at UEFA, said Sunday he expected a “sharper stance” from FIFA.

Polish soccer federation president Cezary Kulesza said Sunday it was “totally unacceptable” that FIFA had not immediately expelled Russia from World Cup qualifying and said Poland is “not interested in participating in this game of appearances.”

Another of Russia’s future opponents, Albania, also said Sunday it would not play against that country in any sports. Russia and Albania are scheduled to meet twice in June in the UEFA Nations League soccer tournament. The group also includes Iceland and Israel.

In hockey, the sport’s governing body has come under pressure from Finland and Switzerland to ban Russia and Belarus, which are both due to play at the world championships in May in Helsinki and Tampere.

Finnish Hockey Association chairman Harri Nummela said in a statement Monday he had talks with the Zurich-based IIHF to exclude the two countries from the sport internationally.


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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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