Football’s governing body Fifa is set to cave in to pressure to suspend Russia from this year’s World Cup, after a host of European teams threatened to boycott fixtures in response to the country’s invasion of Ukraine.
Russia will be suspended from international football and will not be allowed to face Poland in next month’s round of qualifiers for the World Cup in Qatar later this year, said two people with knowledge of the matter.
Uefa, which governs European football, will meet later on Monday to discuss further measures in light of Russia’s assault on its neighbor, according to another person with knowledge of the matter.
The governing bodies are set to issue a statement in the next hour about the measures.
The change of stance came after Fifa faced huge criticism for an earlier decision that would have allowed the Russian national team to play in next month’s World Cup qualifiers. The head of Poland’s football association called Fifa’s original stance “disgraceful”, while the Swedish FA reinforced calls to prevent Russia from playing.
The moves come after the International Olympic Committee on Monday recommended that sports organizers bar Russian athletes from competing in events.
The IOC, which developed close ties to Putin and Russia as they worked together on the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, on Monday also stripped Putin of an honorary “gold” Olympic Order.
Fifa had said it would continue discussions with the IOC and Uefa “to determine any additional measures or sanctions, including a potential exclusion from competitions, that shall be applied in the near future should the situation not be improving rapidly”.
The war in Ukraine has intensified scrutiny of the links between global sport and Russia, which hosted the 2018 Fifa World Cup, forcing teams and competition organizers to reconsider partnerships and sponsorships linked to the Russian state.
Formula One, the global racing series, has abandoned the 2022 Russian grand prix, while Uefa, European football’s governing body, has moved the Champions League final from St Petersburg. Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich has transferred stewardship of European champions Chelsea to trustees of the club’s charitable foundation.
Uefa also plans to scrap its € 40mn-a-year sponsorship with Russian state energy company Gazprom.
Clubs and their fans expressed solidarity with Ukraine at matches over the weekend, including Sunday’s Carabao Cup final between Chelsea and Liverpool at Wembley Stadium.
Football associations across Europe had hit out at Fifa for failing to ban Russia from competing in upcoming qualifiers for the World Cup, which is the Switzerland-headquartered organization’s flagship event.
Poland is scheduled to play Russia on March 24, with the winner to face either Sweden or the Czech Republic to decide which team will compete in Qatar.
All three sides had threatened to boycott matches against Russia, while England’s football authorities warned that the English national team “will not play against Russia in any international fixtures for the foreseeable future”.
The Swedish FA said it was “determined” to work with other federations to cancel matches, with women’s national teams also due to play each other in the Uefa Euro 2022 tournament in July. The Swiss FA, also set to play in the women’s Euros, said on Monday that it would “not play against Russian national teams until further notice”.
Cezary Kulesza, president of the Polish Football Association, said there should be “no indulgence for Russian aggression against Ukraine”.
The Czech Republic’s FA has also said it is “not possible to play against the Russian national football team in the current situation, not even at a neutral venue”.
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