PtG Article 19.08.2014

The Russia/Crimea conflict enters the football fields

Three football clubs from the Crimea region in Ukraine are about to join the Russian football league in spite of Ukrainian protests. Both FIFA and UEFA say they are hoping for a compromise and neither have taken action so far.

The political unrest in Ukraine and Crimea after Russia annexed the Crimean region in March this year has now also had its effect on the football situation in the countries involved.

Three teams geographically placed in the Crimea region, played at a qualifying round in the Russian Cup last week and look set to start the season in the third tier of Russian football following a Russian Football Union (RFU) vote.

According to the FIFA statutes Art. 84, “Associations, Leagues or clubs that are affiliated to a Member may only join another Member or take part in competitions on that Member’s territory under exceptional circumstances. In each case, authorisation must be given by both Members, the respective Confederation(s) and by FIFA.“

Ukraine’s football federation has officially complained to FIFA and UEFA claiming that this is a clear violation of both FIFA and UEFA rules, but action has yet to be taken.

“Of course we will not allow this to happen,” said Anatoliy Konkov, president of the Ukrainian Football Federation to the New York Times. “Our strong position is that Ukrainian teams have to be in Ukrainian competition, and there is no right for them to take part in Russia.”

At a press conference last week Gianni Infantino, UEFA general secretary, expressed hopes that the two countries reach a compromise:

"If they would come up with a joint proposal that would be a very nice signal," Infantino said according to AP. "Football sometimes makes miracles."

According to AP, FIFA follows the decision by UEFA and states: "FIFA will handle the matter based on the relevant processes that should be overseen by the confederation (UEFA) in the first instance."  

Russian football executives worried

Earlier this month, the independent Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta published a transcript of an executive board meeting in the Russian Football Federation (RFU) held in July. The meeting was about whether to include the three Ukrainian football teams.

According to the transcript, which has not been verified by a third party, the Russian football executives have been reluctant to make the decision to include the Ukrainian teams.

The executives, who count some of the wealthiest and most influential businessmen in Russia, have apparently felt trapped between the fear of sanctions and the fear of going against the Kremlin’s directions.

If Russian football should receive sanctions from UEFA or FIFA, these could mean that Russian teams will be excluded from playing in the Champions League and worst case scenario is that Russia is stripped of the 2018 World Cup.

“We can probably survive without Europe, but if we’re talking about the World Cup, that’s a political question,” Alexander Dyukov, president of Zenit St. Petersburg says in the recording, translated by the New York Times.

UK Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has suggested that sport events should be part of the measures taken against Russia after the annexation of the Crimean peninsula.

“Vladimir Putin himself has to understand that he can't have his cake and eat it," he said, according to The Guardian.

"He can't constantly, you know, push the patience of the international community beyond breaking point, destabilise a neighbouring country, protect these armed separatists in the east of Ukraine and still have the privilege and honour of receiving all the accolades in 2018 for being the host nation of the World Cup,” said Clegg.

Commenting to insideworldfootball on the suggestion to strip Russia of the World Cup hosting right, Aleksey Sorokin, head of the 2018 World Cup local organising committee said: "These appeals to FIFA are private opinions by politicians and others. Everyone is entitled to their opinion about where this World Cup should take place. Maybe (they think it should be) back in their homeland, maybe somewhere else. If we pay too much attention to this, it's going to be hard to organise. The focus that remained with us for the last three and half years will remain for the next four.”