Ban on Russian youth teams in world soccer is lifted
By Andrew Das and Tariq Panja
Soccer’s global governing body voted earlier this week to allow youth teams from Russia to return to its competitions, overturning a blanket ban on the country that was imposed days after it invaded Ukraine last year.
Wednesday’s decision by the governing council of FIFA came a week after leaders of European soccer’s governing body, UEFA, agreed to allow Russian men’s and women’s teams to take part in qualifying matches for its under-17 championships, which will take place next year. That decision was framed as separating the interests of athletes, particularly teenage ones, from the actions of their governments.
The teams will be permitted to play as the Football Union of Russia, the name of the country’s soccer federation, rather than Russia, and must do so in neutral colors, and without their national flag and anthem.
The ban on Russia’s senior teams remains in place, meaning they are still barred from competing in showcase competitions such as the World Cup and the European Championship. But by opening the door to the return of Russian teams at the youth level, the soccer bodies have previewed a path forward for a variety of sports and federations — including the International Olympic Committee — that are struggling to find a way to include Russian athletes and teams in their competitions before next year’s Paris Olympics.
The decisions by UEFA, and now FIFA, carry risk. The idea of a possible return to the field for Russia has been met with a furious reaction from the federations in their member countries, including more than a dozen who have said they would refuse to allow their soccer teams to take the field against Russian opponents under any circumstances.
If the countries refuse to play those matches, or refuse to allow Russian teams to enter their borders, it would affect the competitive balance of major events and open the federations to punishment. That could lead to a broader fight about the reintegration of Russia at the Court of Arbitration for Sport, the Switzerland-based body empowered to resolve disputes in global sports.