FIFA backed away from immediately expelling Russia from World Cup qualifying on Sunday but said it remained an option, deciding instead the squad can play using the “RFU” acronym of its football federation, the Russian Football Union.
The unanimous ruling by the FIFA Bureau, featuring the six regional football confederation presidents, was also that the Russian flag and anthem can’t be associated with the team.
“FIFA will continue its ongoing dialogue with the IOC, UEFA and other sport organizations to determine any additional measures or sanctions,” FIFA said in a statement, “including a potential exclusion from competitions, that shall be applied in the near future should the situation not be improving rapidly.”
The decision adopts the Court of Arbitration for Sport ruling before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, punishing Russia’s cover-up of the investigation into state-sponsored doping. Under that ruling, the Russians had to compete at the past two Olympics as the ROC team. FIFA had stalled implementing the ban on Russia competing under its name until a potential qualification for the World Cup.
FIFA also said the RFU team can only play on neutral territory and without spectators.
It was not immediately clear whether the decision to use the RFU acronym would satisfy Poland, which said Saturday that it would refuse to play Russia in a World Cup playoff semifinal, which is scheduled for Moscow on March 24.
The Czech Republic joined Poland and Sweden on Sunday in saying it would refuse to play Russia.
“The Czech FA executive committee, staff members and players of the national team agreed it’s not possible to play against the Russian national team in the current situation, not even on the neutral venue,” the federation said in a statement. “We all want the war to end as soon as possible.”
Separately, the English Football Association announced that its national teams would refuse to play Russia for the “foreseeable future.” Russia has qualified for the Women’s European Championship, which is being hosted by England in June.
The English FA said the decision was taken “out of solidarity with Ukraine and to wholeheartedly condemn the atrocities being committed by the Russian leadership.”
The RFU’s president is Aleksandr Dyukov, who is chief executive of a subsidiary of state-owned energy giant Gazprom and also sits on the UEFA executive committee.
On Sunday, France football federation president Noel Le Graet told the Le Parisien newspaper that he was leaning toward excluding Russia from the World Cup.
“The world of sport, and in particular football, cannot remain neutral,” said Le Graet, who sits on the ruling FIFA Council and has recently been a close ally of the governing body’s president, Gianni Infantino.
A strict reading of FIFA’s World Cup regulations would make the Polish, Swedish and Czech federations liable to disciplinary action and having to pay fines and compensation if they wouldn’t play Russia.
In 1992, however, FIFA and UEFA removed Yugoslavia from its competitions following United Nations sanctions imposed when war broke out in the Balkans.
The FIFA Bureau, which is chaired by Infantino, includes UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin.
UEFA on Friday pulled the 2022 Champions League final from St. Petersburg, moving it to Paris, and said Russian and Ukrainian teams in its competitions must play home games in neutral countries. UEFA allowed Spartak Moscow to continue playing in the second-tier Europa League’s round of 16.
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