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FIFA, UEFA’s Russia Ban Takes World Cup Off the Table

Pending a successful appeal or a drastic turn of events, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has cost the nation a chance at reaching the World Cup, among other consequences.

The consequences of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine have crossed over even more into global football’s top levels. FIFA and UEFA on Monday banned all Russian teams from their competitions until further notice. That means that Russia will not play its World Cup qualifying playoff against Poland next month and that Spartak Moscow will not face RB Leipzig in the Europa League next week.

The statement was expected after a meeting Monday afternoon, but it is not clear what would happen if Russia were to appeal against the verdict. In the recent past clubs that have appealed against sanctions have been allowed to continue playing until their appeals were heard at the Court of Arbitration for Sport, although the situation is very different this time.

Most of those bans have been for breaches of Financial Fair Play regulations or irregularities in transfer dealing and presented nothing like the moral or practical concerns of Russian sides continuing in competitions. It was hard to see how Spartak Moscow could have traveled to Germany for next week’s Europa League tie against RB Leipzig, while Poland, which should have played Russia in a World Cup qualifier in late March, had said it would refuse to play.

“Football,” a joint statement from FIFA and UEFA read, “is fully united here and in full solidarity with all the people affected in Ukraine. Both Presidents 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.”

Russia has been suspended from competition

UEFA confirmed that RB Leipzig would be given a bye to the quarterfinals of the Europa League, while Poland will also receive a bye before facing the winner of the game between Sweden and the Czech Republic for a place at the World Cup. Russia will not be replaced in the playoff quartet, one of three that will decide the continent's last three berths in Qatar.

When Poland initially said it would not play, FIFA had proposed that Russia should be forced to play at a neutral venue and under the name of the Russian Football Union, a compromise Poland, Sweden and the Czech Republic swiftly rejected. FIFA and UEFA are traditionally reluctant to sanction countries for nonsporting matters—the banning of Yugoslavia from UEFA Euro 1992, for instance, came after the United Nations imposed sanctions—and both have been uneasy about the possible threat of legal action.

But they had effectively been given cover to suspend Russia outright and take a stronger stance by the International Olympic Committee, which earlier Monday had urged the heads of all sporting bodies to sanction athletes or officials from Russia or Belarus from taking part in their sports, citing “the extremely grave violation of the Olympic Truce” in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

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An IOC statement read: “We are committed to fair competitions for everybody without any discrimination. The current war in Ukraine, however, puts the Olympic Movement in a dilemma. While athletes from Russia and Belarus would be able to continue to participate in sports events, many athletes from Ukraine are prevented from doing so because of the attack on their country.

“This is a dilemma which cannot be solved. The IOC Executive Board has therefore today carefully considered the situation and, with a heavy heart, issued the following resolution:

“In order to protect the integrity of global sports competitions and for the safety of all the participants, the IOC EB recommends that International Sports Federations and sports event organizers not invite or allow the participation of Russian and Belarusian athletes and officials in international competitions.”

A tribute to Ukraine at the League Cup final at Wembley Stadium

What that means for the women’s Euros, which take place in England later this year, remains to be seen and will be discussed at a later meeting. Portugal is the side likely to benefit having lost to Russia in a qualifying playoff. At the moment, though, it is inconceivable that the U.K. would issue visas to a visiting Russia team. That could present an existential crisis for FIFA and UEFA: What can they do if the law says Russia has to compete, but the vast majority of their members refuse to play against Russia? That, of course, is assuming that Russia does appeal, which it may not.

Decisions will also have to be taken about the 2022–23 Nations League, which is scheduled to begin in June. Russia has been drawn with Iceland, Israel and Albania in Group B2. It seems most likely that group will simply go ahead with three teams, although Turkey, as the highest-ranked Group C side, could be elevated.

It is as of yet unclear under what circumstances Russian teams would be allowed to return. Much remains to be clarified. But for now Russia, the 2018 host, is out of the World Cup.

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