Despite the welcomed distraction of my daughter’s second birthday this weekend I have been glued to the radio and television following Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. I am careful to write Putin’s invasion as it is my strong belief that he does not represent the majority of the Russian population, especially its sports stars.
Last week the Polish football authorities declared their intention to boycott any fixture with the men’s Russian national team, a sentiment shared by individual players including the team’s figurehead, Robert Lewandowski. They were soon joined in their boycott by Sweden and the Czech Republic, either of these teams would be scheduled to meet the winner of the Poland vs Russia tie in a World Cup play-off.
UEFA took the sensible decision to strip St Petersburg of the Champions League final and has also moved all fixtures involving Russian teams to neutral venues. Spartak Moscow, remain in the men’s European competition this season. Their forthcoming opponents RB Leipzig said, “RB Leipzig is currently in intensive discussions with Uefa on the further course of action for the Europa League knockout-round matches against Spartak Moscow and expects a timely decision by the association.” It remains to be seen whether this tie will go ahead or not.
It then got me thinking about the Russian women’s national team’s participation in this summer’s UEFA Women’s Euros. We put out a Twitter poll asking what our followers thought on this subject. The results came back overwhelmingly with 77.3% saying that they should be removed, 5.2% believing that they should be able to participate and 17.5% unsure of what the best outcome would be.
It breaks my heart to say those words but I have been brought to tears too many times by stories of fathers who have been forced to leave their families to defend their country and seeing images of innocent people suffering injury and damage to property. In times like this football is meaningless but also powerful. UEFA and FIFA should be exerting their influence to show that the world of football will stand up to bullies, on this occasion Vladimir Putin.
It is my hope that Putin will remove all military presence from Ukraine so that innocent Russians, including sports people and football supporters, are not made to suffer for their leader’s actions. I desperately hope that we can welcome the Russian women’s national team to England for their scheduled matches against Switzerland, Netherlands and Sweden.
The Swiss football authorities have been the first that I have seen which mention the impact of boycotts on the women’s national team. In a public statement, they have said, “The SFV supports the position of the federations of Poland, Sweden and the Czech Republic, who demand the exclusion of the Russian men’s national team from the play-offs for the FIFA World Cup 2022 in Qatar. In solidarity with these associations, the SFV will not be playing any competitive or friendly matches against Russian national teams until further notice. If necessary, this non-negotiable position of the SFV also explicitly extends to the first game of its women’s national team at the UEFA Women’s EURO in England on July 9, 2022 against Russia.”
In response to this FIFA have suggested that the Russian men’s national team’s World Cup play-off against Poland should go ahead but at a neutral venue and be played behind closed doors. Also that Russia participates under the banner of the “Football Union of Russia (RFU)” with no Russian flags being flown, nor the national anthem being played. This is not something that I support as it is not solving the problem but I shouldn’t be surprised at this response as it’d be naive of me to think that FIFA will develop a moral backbone any time soon.
It is commendable that the world of football has been vocal in its statements against Putin’s behaviour but actions speak louder than words and FIFA should be using their influence positively and suggesting that as it stands Russia’s participation within international football is untenable.
The situation is ever-changing so I pray that it can be resolved quickly so we’re not even asking this question and that we can welcome Yuri Krasnozhan’s side to celebrate women’s international football.