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FIFA condemns Ukraine invasion, announces penalties against Russia

Poland star Robert Lewandowski supported his country's decision to boycott games against Russia because of Russia's invasion of Ukraine. (Czarek Sokolowski/AP)
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FIFA, international soccer’s governing body, responded to growing pressure to penalize Russia for its invasion of Ukraine by banning 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 (UEFA). 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 have competed 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.

Last week, the countries said they would not play games in Russia. They 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. Cezary Kulesza, president of Poland’s soccer federation, called FIFA’s decision “totally unacceptable” in a tweet.

“We are not interested in participating in this game of appearances,” Kulesza said. “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 said 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 not to 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 Swedish Football Association had called on FIFA to cancel Russia’s playoff matches next month.

“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.”

UEFA moves Champions League final from Russia to Paris as sports world grapples with conflict

The executive committee of the Czech soccer association followed suit, 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 Saturday was met with support from Polish leaders, including President Andrzej Duda, who replied: “And rightly so, Mr. President. You don’t play with bandits.” Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki also voiced his approval and gratitude, thanking Kulesza and Polish players, including star Robert Lewandowski.

Lewandowski, a striker for Bayern Munich and Poland’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 suburban Paris in response to the attack on Ukraine.

Roman Abramovich, owner of defending Champions League winner 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 also has impacted the sports world outside of soccer. Formula One announced in a statement Friday that September’s race in Sochi won’t be held, saying, “It is impossible to hold the Russian Grand Prix in the current circumstances.”

The IOC 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.