Prague (AFP) – The Czech Republic joined Poland and Sweden on Sunday in refusing to face Russia in the 2022 World Cup qualifiers next month in response to that country’s invasion of Ukraine.
The head of the world champions’ French football federation also moved against the Russians, saying on Sunday he would prefer to exclude them from the competition.
Russia is due to host Poland in Moscow in the semi-finals on March 24, with Sweden or the Czech Republic scheduled to host five days later. The winner will advance on March 29 to the World Cup Finals, which will be held in Qatar from November 21 to December. 18.
However, the Czech Football Association said its executive committee “unanimously agreed to the decision that the Czech national team would in no way play for Russia”.
Officials in Poland and Sweden made the same decision on Saturday – putting pressure on FIFA, which is responsible for all World Cup qualifying matches, including in Europe.
FIFA and its president Gianni Infantino have not taken a clear public stance on Russia, the 2018 World Cup host nation, since the military invasion began on Thursday.
The Czech Federation said its president, Petr Vosk, would lead negotiations with FIFA and UEFA over his position.
“The executive committee of the Czech federation, members of the staff and players of the national team have agreed that it is not possible to play against the Russian national team in the current situation, not even on a neutral pitch,” the federation said in a statement. “We all want the war to end as soon as possible.”
FIFA’s current options include removing Russia from the World Cup or allowing it to advance to the final tournament by accepting the withdrawal of the other three teams in its playoff bracket.
strict reading of FIFA World Cup regulations The Polish, Swedish and Czech federations may be subject to disciplinary action, fines and compensation.
In 1992, FIFA and UEFA removed Yugoslavia from their competitions following UN sanctions imposed when war broke out in the Balkans.
In France, FIFA President Noel Le Graet told Le Parisien daily On Sunday, he was leaning towards excluding Russia from the World Cup.
“The world of sport, and in particular football, cannot remain neutral,” said Le Grat, a member of the FIFA Governing Council who was recently a close ally of Infantino.
Any decision by FIFA on Russia is likely to come from his office, which is chaired by Infantino and which includes the heads of the six continental football bodies, including Aleksander Ceferin of UEFA.
The European Football Association, on Friday, withdrew the 2022 Champions League final from Saint Petersburg, and moved it to Paris, and said that the Russian and Ukrainian teams in their competitions should play matches at home in neutral countries. UEFA has allowed Spartak Moscow to continue playing in the round of 16 of the second tier of the European League.
As the Ukraine offensive entered a fourth day on Sunday, Russian President Vladimir Putin temporarily lost his most official position in global sport. The International Judo Federation referred to the “conflict in Ukraine” for suspending Putin’s post of honorary president.
The Russian president is a passionate judoka who attended the sport at the 2012 London Olympics.
In Putin’s other favorite sport, ice hockey, Latvian club Dinamo Riga Sunday withdrew from the Russian-owned and operated Continental Hockey League due to a “military and humanitarian crisis”.
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