Poland and Sweden refuse to play Russia in World Cup qualifiers
Poland’s refusal to play its World Cup qualifier against Russia next month in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine gained wider support when Sweden followed with its own plans to protest to FIFA on Saturday.
Polish soccer federation president Cezary Kulesza announced Poland’s decision and said it was in talks with other federations to present a unified position to FIFA, which is responsible for the March 24 game in Moscow.
“No more words, time to act!” Kulesza wrote on Twitter, adding the move was prompted by the “escalation of the aggression.”
Poland captain Robert Lewandowski and goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny were among those supporting the decision, with the Bayern Munich striker saying “we can’t pretend that nothing is happening.”
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Sweden, a potential opponent of Russia in next month’s playoffs, later joined Poland in declaring its national team would not play a match against the Russians regardless of where it takes place.
“The illegal and deeply unjust invasion of Ukraine currently makes all football fixtures with Russia impossible,” said Karl-Erik Nilsson, the Swedish federation’s chairman. “We therefore urge FIFA to decide that the playoff matches in March in which Russia participates will be canceled.”
The winner of the Poland-Russia match is due to host Sweden or the Czech Republic on March 29 for a place at the World Cup being played in Qatar from Nov. 21 to Dec. 18.
“We have a hard time believing that FIFA will not follow our call,” Nilsson added. “Russia can not join as long as this madness continues.”
Nilsson is also first vice president of UEFA, the European soccer body, which has stripped Russia of hosting the Champions League final in St. Petersburg in May. UEFA decided Friday to move that game to Paris.
Ukrainian forces and armed volunteers fought fiercely to maintain control of Kyiv against Russian troops as explosions and gunfire shook the city.
Lewandowski, Poland’s all-time leading scorer and winner of FIFA’s best player award for the past two years, supported Kulesza’s announcement.
“I can’t imagine playing a match with the Russian National Team in a situation when armed aggression in Ukraine continues,” Lewandowski said on Twitter. “Russian footballers and fans are not responsible for this, but we can’t pretend that nothing is happening.”
FIFA has yet to take a clear position on Russia hosting or even playing against Poland.
UEFA said Friday that in its competitions all Russian and Ukrainian teams must now move their home games to play in other countries.