Fifa criticised for refusing to ban Russia from World Cup qualifiers

Football’s world governing body Fifa has been heavily criticised by European countries for refusing to ban Russia’s national team from competing in qualification for this year’s World Cup, following Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.

The head of Poland’s football association hit out at Fifa’s “disgraceful decision”, while the Swedish FA reinforced calls to prevent Russia from playing in an upcoming round of matches that offer the chance to play in the World Cup in Qatar in November.

Poland is due to play Russia on March 24, with the winner to play either Sweden or Czech Republic to decide which team will compete in Qatar. All three sides have threatened to boycott matches against Russia.

The Swedish FA said it was “determined” to work with other federations to cancel Russia’s matches, with the women’s national teams also due to play each other in the Uefa Euro 2022 tournament in July. The Swiss FA, also set to play in the women’s Euros, said on Monday that it would “not play against Russian national teams until further notice”.

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Cezary Kulesza, president of the Polish Football Association, said there should be “no indulgence for Russian aggression against Ukraine”.

The Czech Republic’s FA has also said it is “not possible to play against the Russian football national team in the current situation, not even on a neutral venue”.

The English national team “won’t play against Russia in any international fixtures for the foreseeable future”, the English FA said on Sunday, leading to questions about what would happen if the two teams were eventually drawn against each other at the World Cup.

Football clubs and their fans expressed solidarity with Ukraine at matches over the weekend, including at Sunday’s Carabao Cup final between Chelsea and Liverpool at Wembley Stadium.

Despite the US and its western allies imposing sanctions designed to make Russia a “global economic and financial pariah”, Fifa has so far refused to ban the country from competing in its flagship competition.

Putin’s war in Ukraine has intensified scrutiny of the links between global sport and Russia, which hosted the 2018 Fifa World Cup and the Sochi Winter Olympics in 2014, forcing teams and competition organisers to reconsider partnerships and sponsorships linked to the Russian state.

Formula One, the global racing series, has abandoned the 2022 Russian grand prix, while Uefa, European football’s governing body, has moved the Champions League final to Paris from St Petersburg. Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich has transferred his stewardship of European champions Chelsea to trustees of the club’s charitable foundation.

Uefa also plans to scrap its €40mn-a-year sponsorship with Russian state energy company Gazprom and English Premier League side Manchester United last week ripped up a sponsorship with Russian airline Aeroflot.

Switzerland-based Fifa said on Sunday that it had agreed with Uefa and the International Olympic Committee, which runs the Olympic Games, to bar Russia from hosting international sports events.

Fixtures are to take place on neutral ground and the Russian flag and national anthem would not be permitted, Fifa said. Russia will compete as the “Football Union of Russia”, Fifa president Gianni Infantino added.

Stopping short of an outright ban, Fifa said it would continue to discuss the situation “with the IOC, Uefa and other sport organisations to determine any additional measures or sanctions, including a potential exclusion from competitions, that shall be applied in the near future should the situation not be improving rapidly”.

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