Russia face World Cup ban threat as sport turns yellow and blue for Ukraine
Paris (AFP) – Russia faced calls to be banished from the 2022 World Cup on Sunday as Moscow edged towards becoming a sports pariah following its invasion of Ukraine.
Demands to dump Russia from football’s showpiece event were led by French Football Federation president Noel Le Graet.
“The world of sport, and especially football, cannot remain neutral. I certainly would not oppose the expulsion of Russia,” said Le Graet told Le Parisien newspaper.
France are the reigning world champions having won the 2018 tournament played in Russia.
Governing body FIFA warned that they were considering the ultimate sanction but after four days of war, they on Sunday only ordered Russia to play home internationals on neutral venues.
Their national flag and anthem are also to be banned.
FIFA also said Russian teams would play as the “Football Union of Russia”.
FIFA admitted, however, it would continue its dialogue with other sports organisations to determine additional measures “including potential exclusion from competitions”.
However, within minutes of FIFA’s announcement, the Polish FA insisted once again that they will not play Russia in a World Cup play-off.
“Today’s FIFA decision is totally unacceptable,” tweeted Polish FA president Cezary Kulesza.
“We are not interested in participating in this game of appearances. Our stance remains intact: Polish National Team will NOT PLAY with Russia, no matter what the name of the team is.”
Poland were due to play in Moscow on March 24.
Should Russia win, they are scheduled to host the winners of a match between the Czechs and the Swedes on March 29.
Sweden and the Czech Republic have also refused to play Russia in the play-offs.
The English FA said Sunday that their national teams would not play any games against Russia “out of solidarity with Ukraine and to wholeheartedly condemn the atrocities being committed by the Russian leadership”.
European governing body UEFA took action on Friday, stripping Saint Petersburg’s Gazprom Arena of the Champions League final on May 28 and awarding the showpiece match to the Stade de France in Paris.
At Wembley on Sunday, Chelsea skipper Cesar Azpilicueta and Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson carried flowers in Ukraine’s yellow and blue colours onto the pitch before kick-off in their League Cup final.
Both teams stood for a minute’s applause, while a message on the stadium scoreboard in yellow and blue read “Football Stands Together”.
– ‘Save Ukraine, save Europe’ –
Liverpool and Chelsea fans were seen with Ukraine flags in their sections of Wembley.
One supportive banner in Ukraine’s blue and yellow colours read “You’ll never walk alone” in reference to Liverpool’s anthem.
Chelsea also said they were “praying for peace” following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine after owner Roman Abramovich’s decision to hand over control of the Premier League club.
The Russian-Israeli billionaire announced on Saturday that he was handing the “stewardship and care” of Chelsea to the trustees of the club’s charitable foundation. But he will remain as owner.
There was no mention in his statement of the crisis in Ukraine.
Chelsea released a 24-word statement on their website but there was no mention of Russia or its president, Vladimir Putin.
“The situation in Ukraine is horrific and devastating,” the statement said. “Chelsea FC’s thoughts are with everyone in Ukraine. Everyone at the club is praying for peace.”
It is understood Abramovich, who allegedly has links to the Kremlin, took the decision to step aside in order to protect Chelsea from reputational damage as war rages in Ukraine.
Sporting anger wasn’t just limited to football.
In Cairo, Ukrainian fencers withdrew from the world championships to avoid facing Russia in a match-up.
The Ukraine men’s team, dressed in the yellow and blue of their national flag, downed their swords and picked up signs to protest.
“Stop Russia! Stop the war!,” the signs read, written in English. “Save Ukraine! Save Europe.”