FIFA, international soccer’s governing body, responded to growing pressure to penalize Russia for its invasion of Ukraine by announcing a ban on Russia’s name, flag and anthem in next month’s World Cup qualifying matches, moving matches out of Russia and moving any of its team’s “home” matches to a neutral site.
The decision by the Bureau of the FIFA Council, featuring the six regional confederation presidents, was unanimous and was made in coordination with the Union of European Football Associations. It followed recommendations from the International Olympic Committee, FIFA said in a statement, and the decisions are effective until further notice.
In addition, Russia’s team will have to compete under the name “Football Union of Russia,” in the same way that the country’s athletes compete in the Olympics as the “Russian Olympic Committee” as punishment for its state-sanctioned doping program.
“FIFA calls again for the urgent restoration of peace and for constructive dialogue to commence immediately,” the statement says, condemning the invasion of Ukraine. “FIFA remains in close contact with the Ukrainian Association of Football and members of the Ukrainian football community who have been requesting support to leave the country for as long as the current conflict persists.”
The statement comes after the Czech Republic on Sunday joined Poland and Sweden in announcing that it would refuse to play Russia in World Cup qualifying matches because of the invasion.
Earlier in the week, the countries said they would not play games in Russia. The four teams were scheduled to play in a four-team group in Moscow to earn one of Europe’s final three spots in the World Cup this year. Russia was set to meet Poland on March 24 in one semifinal game, with the Czech Republic and Sweden playing in the other to determine who would play in the final.
In response to FIFA’s announcement, Poland said it would still refuse to play Russia, calling the decision “totally unacceptable” in a tweet by Polish football federation president Cezary Kulesza. “We are not interested in participating in this game of appearances. Our stance remains intact: Polish National Team will NOT PLAY with Russia, no matter what the name of the team is.”
Although FIFA’s statement says that the games will not be played in Russia, the other two countries had indicated they, too, would not play Russia regardless of location.
“With regard to the upcoming FIFA World Cup 2022 qualifiers, FIFA has taken good note of the positions expressed via social media by the Polish Football Association, the Football Association of the Czech Republic and the Swedish Football Association and has already engaged in dialogue with all of these football associations,” the FIFA statement added. “FIFA will remain in close contact to seek to find appropriate and acceptable solutions together.”
Earlier, Polish national team players released a joint statement with the Polish Football Association, saying the choice to not play the game was “not an easy decision.”
“There are more important things in life than football,” the statement read. “Our thoughts are with the Ukrainian nation and our friend from the national team, Tomasz Kedziora, who is still in Kyiv with his family.”
Kedziora, 27, is a defender for Dynamo Kyiv. The statement ended with the hashtags #SolidarnizUkrainq and #NoWarPlease.
“The illegal and deeply unjust invasion of Ukraine currently makes all football exchanges with Russia impossible,” Swedish soccer federation chairman Karl-Erik Nilsson said Saturday. “We therefore urge FIFA to decide that the playoff matches in March in which Russia participates will be canceled. But regardless of what FIFA chooses to do, we will not play against Russia in March.”
The executive committee of the Czech soccer association followed Sweden and Poland, saying it had “unanimously approved a decision” to “not in any case play Russia.”
“The Czech FA executive committee, staff members and players of the national team agreed it’s not possible to play against the Russian national team in the current situation, not even on the neutral venue,” the Czech soccer federation said in a statement. “We all want the war to end as soon as possible.”
Kulesza’s tweet on Saturday was met with support from Polish leaders, including president Andrzej Duda, who replied saying “And rightly so, Mr. President. You don’t mess with bandits.” Prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki also voiced his approval and gratitude, thanking Kulesza and Polish players including Polish star Robert Lewandowski.
Lewandowski, striker for Bayern Munich and the nation’s all-time leading scorer, called the move to boycott games against Russia “the right decision.”
The FIFA announcement is another significant move in the soccer world after UEFA announced Friday that the Champions League final would be moved out of St. Petersburg to Paris in response to the attack on Ukraine.
Roman Abramovich, owner of the defending Champions League club Chelsea FC, said in a statement Saturday that he is “giving trustees of Chelsea’s charitable Foundation the stewardship and care of Chelsea FC.” Abramovich, who has owned the team for the past two decades, had come out in support of Russian president Vladimir Putin.
“I have always taken decisions with the Club’s best interest at heart,” Abramovich said. “I remain committed to these values. That is why I am today giving trustees of Chelsea’s charitable Foundation the stewardship and care of Chelsea FC. I believe that currently they are in the best position to look after the interests of the Club, players, staff, and fans.”
The UEFA Executive Committee said in the same statement that Russian and Ukrainian clubs and national teams competing in UEFA competitions would have to play home games at neutral sites instead of their home stadiums.
Russia’s decision to invade Ukraine has also impacted the sports world outside of soccer. Formula One issued a statement Friday that September’s Russian Grand Prix won’t be held in Sochi, saying, “It is impossible to hold the Russian Grand Prix in the current circumstances.”
The International Olympic Committee urged all international sports federations in a statement Friday to relocate or cancel events scheduled to be held in Russia or Belarus. The International Ski Federation also announced Friday that all remaining World Cup events scheduled to take place in Russia between now and the end of the season will be canceled or moved.