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FIFA and UEFA suspend Russian squads from soccer competitions

FIFA suspended Russia after the country's invasion of Ukraine. (Andy Rain/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock)
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FIFA, soccer’s global governing body, and its European counterparts suspended Russia from international competition Monday, a move that affects World Cup qualifying and major club competitions and comes amid mounting worldwide pressure on the country to end its invasion of Ukraine.

In a statement, FIFA and the Union of European Football Associations said the ban would remain in place “until further notice.”

The Russian men’s national team, a World Cup quarterfinalist in 2018, was scheduled to host Poland in a qualifying playoff March 24. Had it won, it would’ve faced Sweden or the Czech Republic five days later for a berth in this fall’s tournament in Qatar. All three teams announced over the weekend that they would boycott games against Russia.

The suspension also affects the Russian women’s team — which was slated to play in the European Championship this summer in England — and Spartak Moscow, a men’s club team that advanced to the round of 16 in the Europa League, the continent’s second-most-important club competition.

UEFA already had moved the May 28 Champions League final, the biggest club match in the world, from St. Petersburg to the Paris suburb of Saint-Denis.

European soccer authorities also announced they had canceled their partnership with Gazprom, a natural gas giant that is majority-owned by the Russian government. The company has sponsored the Champions League for many years, and the title game this year was to have been played at Gazprom Arena in St. Petersburg.

“Football is fully united here and in full solidarity with all the people affected in Ukraine,” the FIFA and UEFA statement said. “Both presidents [of the governing bodies] hope that the situation in Ukraine will improve significantly and rapidly so that football can again be a vector for unity and peace amongst people.”

The Russian Football Union, the country’s governing body, said in a statement that “this decision is contrary to the norms and principles of international competition, as well as the spirit of sports. … Such actions are dividing the world sports community, which has always adhered to the principles of equality, mutual respect and independence from politics. We reserve the right to challenge the decision of FIFA and UEFA in accordance with international sports law.”

The move by FIFA and UEFA comes one day after FIFA announced initial measures to penalize Russia, including a ban on Russia using its name, flag and anthem. Home games were to be played at neutral sites without fans.

IOC, FIFA clamp down on Russian and Belarussian athletes and teams

The teams would have had to compete under the name “Football Union of Russia,” similar to how the country’s athletes competed in the Tokyo and Beijing Olympics as the “Russian Olympic Committee” as punishment for a state-sanctioned doping program.

This decision by FIFA and UEFA aligns with the International Olympic Committee’s recommendation Monday that federations and organizations should not allow or invite Russian or Belarusian athletes or officials to participate in events. Belarus has been a staging ground for the Russian offensive and reportedly is sending troops to Ukraine in support of Russian forces.

In a statement, the IOC said it was moving “to protect the integrity of global sports competitions and for the safety of all the participants.” The IOC stopped short of an outright ban and has not suspended either country.

Also, the NHL announced it was suspending its relationships with business partners in Russia and pausing its Russian language social and digital media websites. The league said it will discontinue any consideration of Russia as a location for any future games.

The International Ice Hockey Federation announced it had suspended all Russian and Belarusian national and club teams at all age levels from official competitions until further notice and withdrew the hosting rights of the 2023 world junior championships from Russia.

The World Curling Federation said it was beginning the process of removing Russians from the upcoming world tournaments. World Rugby stated on Monday that it was barring Russia and Belarus from all international and cross-border club play, as well as suspending Russia’s rugby union organization from membership in the Dublin-based governing body until further notice.

World Rugby said it was taking action to “protect the rugby family and take a strong stance against the conflict.”

Ukrainian tennis pros Elina Svitolina and Marta Kostyuk turned to social media Monday to plead with tennis authorities to take action. As of late Monday, neither the Women’s Tennis Association nor the Association of Tennis Professionals had issued a statement about any changes to events scheduled in Russia or the presentation of Russia’s flags and athletes.

On Saturday, the International Tennis Federation, which stages entry-level tournaments for rising pros, announced it was postponing a men’s event scheduled for April in Ukraine because of “heightened safety concerns” and suspending all 2022 tournaments scheduled in Russia and Belarus.

In an appeal posted Monday on Twitter, the 15th-ranked Svitolina wrote: “I believe the current situation requires a clear position from our organisations: ATP, WTA and ITF. As such, we — Ukrainian players — requested to ATP, WTA and ITF to follow the recommendations of the IOC to accept Russian or Belarusian nationals only as neutral athletes, without displaying any national symbols, colours, flags or anthems.”

Failing that, Svitolina added, she would refuse to play her Russian opponent, Anastasia Potapova, in a match scheduled for Tuesday at the Monterrey Open, as well as any other opponent from Russia or Belarus. Svitolina, 27, was joined in her appeal by the 54th-ranked Kostyuk, a 19-year-old Kyiv native who called on the WTA to pull all events from Russia and condemn the government’s actions.

The ban of the men’s national soccer team, though, is the biggest immediate blow to Russian sports. When the 2018 World Cup was staged in Russia, the squad defied the odds by advancing to the quarterfinals before losing to Croatia in a penalty kick shootout. It is ranked No. 35 in the world by FIFA, up from No. 70 before the 2018 tournament. The women’s team, ranked No. 25, has not qualified for the World Cup since 2003 and has never advanced out of the European Championship’s group stage.

This is not the first time FIFA has taken action against a men’s national team on political grounds. Before the 1994 World Cup, the governing body suspended Yugoslavia from World Cup qualifiers after the United Nations sanctioned the country over the Bosnian war.

The U.S. Soccer Federation denounced the invasion, saying it wouldn’t “tarnish our global game” by taking the same field as Russia until there was peace in Ukraine. (The U.S. men’s and women’s teams do not have any matches scheduled against Russian opponents.)

On the club level, Manchester United terminated its sponsorship deal with Aeroflot, Russia’s national airline, and German club Schalke canceled its partnership with Gazprom, its main sponsor, by removing the company’s logo from its jerseys.

Liz Clarke and Des Bieler contributed to this report.

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