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World football tackles Russia

World football tackles Russia

FIFA and UEFA suspended all Russian teams from their competitions on Monday. But only after first announcing much softer sanctions.

Why did it take FIFA and UEFA so long to ban Russian teams from their competitions? 

“FIFA and UEFA have today decided together that all Russian teams, whether national or representative teams or club teams, shall be suspended from both FIFA and UEFA competitions until further notice. Football is fully united here and in full solidarity with all the people affected in Ukraine. Both presidents hope the situation will improve significantly and rapidly so that football again can be a vector for unity and peace among people.”

Sky Sports News

On Monday the international and european football governing bodies finally cast Russian teams out of their competitions in response to Vladimir Putin’s ongoing and brutal war with Ukraine.

Russia will not be allowed to participate in their upcoming World Cup qualifiers and Spartak Moscow has been automatically eliminated from the Europa League. 

UEFA’s deal with Russian state gas company Gazprom was also severed. 

But in effect, they were forced into it.

FIFA took initial steps to ban the Russian flag and national anthem from international matches. 

They insisted that Russia compete under the name “Football Union of Russia” and play their fixtures on neutral territory, without fans. 

There was to be “ongoing dialogue” with UEFA and the International Olympic Committee. 

So individual nations took the situation into their own hands. 

Poland – who were due to face Russia in a World Cup qualifier in just a few weeks’ time – said they would refuse to play.

Sweden followed suit. 

Soon, it was clear that a name change and a stadium ban were not going to be enough. 

And when the International Olympic Committee banned all Russian athletes from competing…FIFA and UEFA toughened their position too.

But why wait until the pressure became insurmountable?

“It’s absolutely embarrassing. Embarrassing. Infantino should hang his head in shame. That the countries are having to come out and say Poland, Sweden, England. That decision should be taken out of their hands. FIFA should be walking away, making a statement to say Russia are no longer welcome or involved in any football tournament across the world until this crisis is resolved.” 

Talksport

That was Ally McCoist, hours before that joint statement came out, criticising FIFA president Gianni Infantino for not coming down harder on Russia. 

He said that the people of Ukraine deserved a lot better.

But the truth is, this isn’t the first time Russia has behaved like this in recent years.

In 2014 Vladimir Putin ordered the annexation of Crimea, in the south of Ukraine. And less than 4 years after that, in 2018, Russia hosted the World Cup.

Vladimir Putin was closely involved in its organisation and shared a stage with Gianni Infantino a number of times. And the thing with social media is, there’s always a record of things you did in the past.

For Gianni Infantino, that meant that every interaction with Vladimir Putin, every smile, every handshake, even a practice penalty shoot-out in Red Square, is forever captured on film.

“It has been the best World Cup ever. And for this I would like to thank you sincerely…”

“Thank you Mr. President for your kind words.”

AP Sports

President Putin was so grateful that after the World Cup he even awarded Gianni Infantino an Order of Friendship medal. 

“I would like to express special thanks to Mr. Infantino and underline his commitment to his ideals of sport and justice, and of course his consistently positive attitude towards our country.”

France 24 English

In 2018 FIFA president Gianni Infantino was questioned about his attitude towards Russia.

“Before the World Cup, when you met Vladimir Putin, you said you were on the same team, last week at the Kremlin you said that the world has fallen in love with Russia. Do you think you would find agreement from the victims, the families of MH17, from those who see themselves as being annexed by Ukraine, those who have been on the receiving end of election interference, those athletes who have been cheated by a state strong doping programme…”

AP Sports

Infantino’s response? 

That there are “many injustices in the world… generally.” And that the world’s problems were “not just in one area.”

Infantino said that at the World Cup, the focus is on “celebrating football.”

That was less than four years ago. 

Asked last week if he would return the Order of Friendship medal Putin gave him and whether sport has helped legitimise the aggressive actions of Russia, Gianni Infantino replied: 

“I firmly believe that sport brings people together. Football is the people’s sport. It is not about individuals, it is about all the people from all over the world.”

But now Putin has brought the ultimate injustice to Ukraine. A war it did nothing to provoke. 

That, however long it took, is a red line for world football.

Today’s story was written by Chloe Beresford, and produced by Ella Hill.