Ukraine official doesn't rule out boycott of 2018 World Cup
VIENNA (AP) Ukraine's top football official isn't ruling out a boycott by his country of the 2018 World Cup in Russia - but believes such action won't be needed.
''It's probably the easiest thing to say I favor boycotts,'' federation president Hrigory Surkis told The Associated Press on Tuesday. ''Especially when you can see that there are thousands of civilians who are affected by the situation, where many people have been killed.''
However, Surkis was confident that tensions between Ukraine and Russia would ease before the qualifying draw for the 2018 World Cup is made in St. Petersburg on July 25.
''If we follow and comply with the Minsk agreements, then there will be no necessity to bring this matter to the agenda,'' said Surkis, who spoke through an interpreter.
Ukraine President Petro Poroshenko said last week that a boycott ''needs to be discussed.'' He urged European allies not to take part in the sport's marquee event in four years' time as he accuses Russia of sending troops to fight alongside rebels in Ukraine's east.
''Obviously, this issue is particularly difficult for us,'' Surkis said of Poroshenko's appeal. ''The situation is not only threatening to Ukraine but is also a threat to peace for European societies. Our wish is that in the nearest time, as soon as possible, the situation is stabilized.''
Surkis was speaking in the sidelines of the annual UEFA congress, where he was re-elected as an executive committee member of European football's body.
''Let's wait, let's not be pessimistic,'' Surkis said. ''I am optimistic because this is not only an issue of peace for Ukraine. It's about peace for whole Europe and for the whole world.''
FIFA President Sepp Blatter also slammed political interference with football, saying ''boycotts have never had any results.
''Football should be united, sport should be united when it comes to boycotts,'' Blatter said. ''The autonomy of sports must be guaranteed.''
Following Russia's annexation of the Crimea region from Ukraine a year ago, UEFA decided to separate their national and clubs teams in all competition draws.
A ceasefire negotiated last month in Minsk has calmed the conflict in eastern Ukraine between government forces and pro-Russian separatists, prompting UEFA's top official overseeing football in Crimea to suggest the block could be lifted for the 2016 European Championship in France.
UEFA executive committee member Frantisek Laurinec of Slovakia said the two countries could play ''in a neutral field like in France.''
Surkis said he ''would like that all bans of this kind, like they also exist between Armenia and Azerbaijan, stop dominating the football world.''
''But we must understand that there is a danger of acts of violence many times,'' he added. ''My colleagues, the ExCo members, have taken the most correct decision for a certain period of time.''
The Euro 2016 finals draw takes place on Dec. 12, and though Laurinec didn't refer to club football, the issue might become urgent for UEFA much sooner.
The Europa League could be heading toward a Ukrainian-Russian final as Dynamo Kiev and Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk of Ukraine, along with Dynamo Moscow, are among the eight teams left in the competition.
Although clubs from the two countries are being kept apart, UEFA secretary general Gianni Infantino indicated that an exception would be made for a final between Dynamo and a Ukrainian side - if the two clubs made it through to the decider on May 27 in Warsaw, Poland.
''If they reach the final, they play the final,'' said Infantino, adding that lifting the block in general was not yet an option. ''It's premature to think about other possibilities,'' he said.