Henry McLeish has called for an extra team to be added to the World Cup Finals to give Ukraine a golden ticket – while also allowing Scotland the chance of qualifying.
The former prime minister, and ex-East Fife footballer, has joined forces with a group representing 80,000 Scotland fans to call for action before a draw on Friday which could lock in a 32-nation competition.
Steve Clarke’s side are due to play Ukraine in a play-off in June, with the winner facing Wales for a spot at the tournament in Qatar in November.
But up to four Ukrainian players are believed to be on the front line fighting invading Russian forces, making the game highly unlikely to take place.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson left Scotland and Wales fans furious last week after agreeing with a suggestion that Ukraine should get a bye – a move that would see both home nations dumped out.
McLeish said: “Fifa needs to make a unique show of solidarity with Ukraine and guarantee the Ukrainian flag is flying high at the World Cup finals.
“There is no practical way the play-off between Scotland and Ukraine is ever going to happen in the summer. There are players who are on the front line with their families under attack by invading Russian forces.
“It is time for Fifa to step up and say to Ukraine the pressure is off – you will be at the World Cup and we will be adding an extra team to the draw to make sure nobody else has to be ejected.”
Ukrainian footballers have been joining their own battalion after Russia’s invasion as the country.
A number of players who could line up against Scotland are understood to be on the front line. Dynamo kyiv – based in the center of the fighting – have nine players in the national squad.
Andy Smith, chairman of the Scottish Football Supporters’ Association, said: “We need to give Ukraine a golden ticket to the finals and add one team to the finals to that nobody else loses out as a result.
“I believe the draw on Friday should be postponed to allow for this to happen.
“Yes, it will mean there are 33 teams rather than 32 in the finals, which will mean one of the groups will need to have an extra team.
“There may be a slight disadvantage for those drawn in that group but, at the end of the day, who is going to care if it means we have shown an historic act of solidarity with Ukraine.
“If Scotland needs to play in a five-team group then I would be fine with that because we will have sent a message to Putin that we are standing with Ukraine.” Labor MSP Monica Lennon has also backed the plan.
She said: “I’ve heard people say it would be difficult or even impossible to accommodate Ukraine at the World Cup finals.
“But Fifa managed to change the staging of the tournament, moving it six months away from its summer setting, to accommodate Qatar. It surely isn’t beyond the organizational abilities of the world’s governing body of football to offer Ukraine an extra place.
“The alternative is that they are effectively punished for Putin’s invasion.”
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