FIFA, world soccer’s governing body, bowed on Sunday to pressure from its members and vocal fans to penalize Russia for the country’s invasion of Ukraine.
The soccer organization proposed a series of restrictions on the Russian team, including banning Russia’s name, flag and anthem, and requiring all matches involving the Russian team to be played outside the country at a neutral location. But FIFA stopped short of the all-out ban on the Russian team that many had demanded.
Russia was set to play Poland next month as part of a four-team playoff group for one of Europe’s final places in the World Cup in Qatar later this year. If Russia were to win against Poland, it would meet either Sweden or the Czech Republic in the final playoff match. But all three countries have refused to play Russia under any circumstances in protest against the country’s invasion of Ukraine last Thursday.
Several top players, including Poland’s Robert Lewandowski, FIFA’s reigning world player of the year, have backed the decision to boycott any games involving Russia.
Under the current proposals, Russia can put out a World Cup-qualifying team, but only in neutral venues and before empty stadiums, and only if the team agrees to be known as the Football Union of Russia, rather than Russia. The team would also be banned from displaying the Russian flag or from playing the Russian national anthem before matches.
Reports suggest FIFA’s measures may only be the first step and that an all-out ban on Russia could be in the cards if the conflict in Ukraine continues or intensifies.
Across Europe this weekend, clubs and fans have demonstrated their solidarity with Ukraine and opposition to Russia’s military invasion. In London on Sunday, Wembley Stadium’s iconic arch was lit up in the blue and yellow of the Ukraine flag ahead of the League Cup final between Liverpool and Chelsea. At Manchester United’s home grounds of Old Trafford, United players stood with opponent Watford before the game, holding up a banner reading “peace” in several languages. In Germany’s Bundesliga match between Eintracht Frankfurt and Bayern Munich, players stood for a minute of silence before their game on Saturday. The overhead screen at Eintracht’s stadium showed the message: “Stop it, Putin.”
European soccer body UEFA last week stripped Russia of the rights to host the Champions League final, moving the match from St. Petersburg to Paris.