FIFA Pulls the Rug Out from Under Russia, Guarantees They Won't Get Two Free Wins


Just one day after signaling it would still allow Russia to compete for a 2022 World Cup bid, FIFA has reversed course and banned the team from World Cup qualifying.

According to The New York Times, FIFA announced an indefinite ban on all Russian teams Monday night.

The decision disqualified the Russian national team from earning a bid to the 2022 World Cup.

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On Sunday, FIFA had said it would allow Russia to continue participating in World Cup qualifying despite three potential opponents refusing to play them, The Guardian reported.

The FIFA council agreed to a set of “initial measures” on Sunday that would have allowed an upcoming game between Russia and Poland to be played on a neutral site with no spectators.

In addition, the Russian team would have to go by the moniker “Football Union of Russia,” and the Russian flag and national anthem would be banned from the contest.

But that decision was almost immediately decried by Polish football officials, The Guardian reported. Polish Football Association president Cezary Kulesza called the decision “unacceptable” and officially wrote to FIFA announcing Poland would boycott any game against Russia.

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“The Polish Football Association inform that as a result of the brutal aggression of the Russian Federation against Ukraine and the war that continues there, we do not see any possibility of competing with the Russian national team in play-off matches for promotion to the World Cup in Qatar in 2022 regardless of the name of the team consisting of Russian footballers and the place of the match,” he wrote in a letter, according to The Guardian.

“In the face of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, which was condemned almost all over the world, this is the only decision we can make. A performance in a match against the Russian national team would be a shameful act not just for our players but for the entire football community, contrary to solidarity with the Ukrainian nation. As football association, we refuse to participate in play-off matches in which the Russian national team appears.”

The letter also directly called upon FIFA to ban the Russian team from the 2022 World Cup qualifiers. In contrast to its position on Sunday, FIFA now plans to adhere to Poland’s request and ban Russia from the contest.

According to Deadline, Russia was supposed to face Poland in a qualifying game on March 24. The winner of that match would then have played the winner of a match between the Czech Republic and Sweden to earn a World Cup bid.

However, both Sweden and the Czech Republic joined Poland in vowing their refusal to face Russia.

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“It’s not possible to play against the Russian national team in the current situation, not even on the neutral venue,” the Czech Football Association said in a statement Sunday, according to The Guardian. “We all want the war to end as soon as possible.”

If FIFA had not banned Russia from World Cup qualifying matches, a refusal to play would presumably be treated as a forfeit. That meant Russia could have potentially earned a World Cup bid without playing either of the two potential qualifying matches.

Sweden was prepared to face those consequences. Before FIFA’s latest decision, Swedish reporter Alexandra Jonson said Sweden was willing to give up the chance to earn a World Cup bid in order to take a stand and refuse to compete against Russia.

That will no longer be necessary after Monday’s announcement, barring a blockage of FIFA’s decision in court.

According to the Times, Russia or its athletes could challenge the ban in court, similar to the way they did after the International Olympic Committee issued a ban on the country for its rampant doping schemes. It is unclear whether such a challenge would have a good chance of success — given that this ban stems from much different circumstances.

Union of European Football Associations will also join FIFA in honoring the ban on Russian teams, including club teams, the Times reported. As a result, Spartak Moscow will be disqualified from an upcoming Europa League match against Germany’s RB Leipzig.

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Grant is a graduate of Virginia Tech with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. He has five years of writing experience with various outlets and enjoys covering politics and sports.
Grant is a graduate of Virginia Tech with a bachelor's degree in journalism. He has five years of writing experience with various outlets and enjoys covering politics and sports.