FIFA says Russia must play as ‘Football Union of Russia’ in neutral site; all-out ban could reportedly be next

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As Russia’s invasion of Ukraine continues, FIFA announced its first wave of sanctions on Sunday as soccer’s international governing body grapples with how to handle next month’s UEFA play-off qualifiers for the 2022 Qatar World Cup. In a statement, FIFA said no international competition shall be played on the territory of Russia, with home games being played on a neutral territory and without fans. 

Much like what the International Olympic Committee has done to Russia over state doping scandals, FIFA will refuse to refer to the the Russian national team as “Russia,” instead they will be called “Football Union of Russia” or “RFU.” Additionally, neither the flag nor the anthem of Russia will be used in matches where teams from the Football Union of Russia participate. 

First and foremost, FIFA would like to reiterate its condemnation of the use of force by Russia in its invasion of Ukraine. Violence is never a solution and FIFA expresses its deepest solidarity to all people affected by what is happening in Ukraine. 

FIFA calls again for the urgent restoration of peace and for constructive dialogue to commence immediately. FIFA remains in close contact with the Ukrainian Association of Football and members of the Ukrainian football community who have been requesting support to leave the country for as long as the current conflict persists. 

FIFA said it will continue to speak with the IOC, UEFA and other organizations to decide on any other sanctions or measures. The sanctions could be expanded to an all-out ban if Russia continues its operations in Ukraine, according to the New York Times’ Tariq Panja.

What was not addressed was what will happen with the FIFA World Cup qualifiers coming up next month involving Russia. The team faces Poland on March 24 in the second round in what is essentially a semifinal and final for spot at the 2022 World Cup. Polish FA president Cezary Kulesza swiftly responded to FIFA’s initial sanctions by describing their statement as “totally unacceptable.”

“We are not interested in participating in this game of appearances,” Kulesza said. “Our stance remains intact: Polish national team will not play with Russia, no matter what the name of the team is.”

If Russia were to somehow play and advance past Poland via a forfeit, Sweden or Czech Republic would be next up in the final to qualify. However, all three associations have already said they refuse to play against Russia. As a result, FIFA said they will remain in close contract to “seek to find appropriate and acceptable solutions together.”

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