Russia kicked out of World Cup amid extraordinary new bans

FIFA has suspended Russia from the World Cup after President Vladimir Putin's invasion of Ukraine. Pic: Getty
FIFA has suspended Russia from the World Cup after President Vladimir Putin's invasion of Ukraine. Pic: Getty

Russia will be barred from the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar and other international sports competitions after FIFA and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) levied extraordinary sanctions in response to the invasion of Ukraine.

FIFA, football's world governing body, and UEFA, the sport's European governing body, announced that they have banned all Russian national teams and clubs from all competitions "until further notice."

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The suspension will likely remove Russia from next month's World Cup qualifying playoffs, and end its hopes of earning a berth at the most prestigious tournament in international sport.

FIFA had come under fire from the football community after previously stating that Russian players could compete as the Football Union of Russia (RFU) and any 'home' games would be held with no fans on "neutral territory" and with no national anthem or Russian flags present.

Poland said it would refuse to play against Russia “no matter what the name of the team is”, with the president of Poland’s football federation, Cezary Kulesza, calling FIFA's decision "disgraceful" and "totally unacceptable."

Following overwhelming pressure from the rest of the world, FIFA finally moved to act.

“Football is fully united here and in full solidarity with all the people affected in Ukraine,” the joint FIFA-UEFA statement said.

“Both presidents (Gianni Infantino and Aleksander Ceferin) 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.”

FIFA's decision came hours after the IOC's executive board recommended that sports federations and event organisers "not invite or allow the participation of Russian and Belarusian athletes and officials in international competitions." (Belarus has supported the Russian invasion.)

The UEFA ban would also apply to Russia's women's national team and the 2022 European Championships, set to be held in England this year; and to Spartak Moscow, a Russian club that qualified for the Europa League round of 16.

UEFA, which had already relocated its Champions League final from St Petersburg to Paris, also announced that it would terminate its lucrative sponsorship deal with Russian state-owned energy company Gazprom, worth roughly $62 million a year until 2024.

World condemns Russia's act of war

In announcing the bans, FIFA and UEFA joined a growing list of national governments and international organisations that have penalised Russia for instigating a war that has already taken hundreds of lives.

Ukraine's health ministry said more than 350 civilians, including 14 children, had been killed since the beginning of the invasion.

Foreign officials have condemned the deadly use of force, and branded it a war without a cause.

Sanctions have largely targeted Russia's economy. The sporting suspensions, if they do disqualify Russia from the men's World Cup, are some of the most symbolically significant yet.

Russia's men's national team was scheduled to play Poland in a World Cup qualifying playoff semifinal on March 24.

Following last week's invasion, the Polish national team — players and executives — announced that they would refuse to play the match. Sweden and the Czech Republic, who would meet the Russia-Poland winner with a World Cup spot on the line, also said they would not play Russia.

Russia's football federation has pushed back against the supposed politicisation of sport, and said it did "not see any legal grounds for canceling" World Cup qualifiers.

FIFA President Gianni Infantino (pictured left) and Russian President Vladimir Putin (pictured right) during the last FIFA World Cup. (Getty Image)
FIFA President Gianni Infantino (pictured left) and Russian President Vladimir Putin (pictured right) during the last FIFA World Cup. (Getty Image)

It said it "reserve[s] the right to challenge the decision of FIFA and UEFA in accordance with international sports law."

It could, presumably, appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), which has historically been kind to Russian athletes and officials in doping cases.

FIFA, in announcing its decision, did not cite a law or rule that allowed it to enact the ban. It said the decision had been made by the FIFA Council and UEFA Executive Committee, the most powerful decision-making bodies in their respective organisations. Legal experts believe that the IOC's recommendations, which stemmed from Russia's violation of the Olympic Truce, paved the way for FIFA's ban.

Russia ban not unprecedented

The suspensions are rare but not quite unprecedented. Germany's and Japan's soccer federations were not readmitted by FIFA in time for the 1950 World Cup, the first after World War II. South Africa was barred from qualifying for two decades during apartheid. More recently, Yugoslavia was removed from the 1992 European Championships and prevented from qualifying for the 1994 World Cup amid the wars that ultimately tore it apart. FIFA, in announcing that ban in 1992, cited United Nations sanctions.

But other military actions that have run afoul of the UN have not led to FIFA penalties. Syria nearly qualified for the 2018 men's World Cup as dictator Bashar al-Assad waged war against his own people. United States national teams were not punished after their government invaded Iraq in 2003. The Soviet Union played in the 1982 World Cup two-and-a-half years after its forces invaded Afghanistan.

FIFA, in its Monday announcement, did not clarify whether a Russian retreat from Ukraine would lead to immediate reinstatement. It also did not say whether Poland would win the playoff semifinal by forfeit, or whether another team — perhaps Slovakia, which finished directly behind Russia in group play; or Hungary, via the UEFA Nations League qualification criteria — would replace Russia in the playoffs.

Ukraine's national team, which is scheduled to play Scotland in its own playoff semifinal, will remain in the qualifying competition.

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