Poland, Czech Republic and Sweden All Refuse to Play Russia in World Cup Qualifiers

The four countries were slated to compete for a spot at the tournament

Robert Lewandowski
Robert Lewandowski of Poland looks on during the 2022 FIFA World Cup Qualifier match between Andorra and Poland.
Pedro Salado/Quality Sport Images/Getty Images

UPDATE (2/28/22): FIFA and UEFA released a joint statement in which they announced that Russian clubs and national teams would be “suspended from participation in both FIFA and UEFA competitions until further notice.”

This will affect not just the World Cup qualifiers, but also European club competitions — for instance, Spartak Moscow had been scheduled to play RB Leipzig in the Europa League Round of 16. Simon Evans of Reuters reports that UEFA confirmed that Leipzig will now advance directly to the quarter-finals.

UPDATE (2/28/22): The Athletic reports that FIFA will suspend Russia from all competitions “until further notice.” The first match to be affected by this will be the scheduled Russia/Poland World Cup qualifier, scheduled to take place on March 24. A formal announcement is expected to follow, along with more details on the effects of this suspension.

UPDATE (2/27/22): According to an ESPN report, FIFA has stopped short of an outright ban of Russia from the upcoming World Cup, but has stated that the team will have to play under the name “Russian Football Union” and without the Russian flag or national anthem. This measure did not go far enough for (at least) both Poland and Sweden, who both reiterated their refusal to play against Russia under any name.

“FIFA’s decision today is unacceptable to us,” said Cezary Kuleska. “In the situation of war in Ukraine, we are not interested in the game of appearances.”

The list of high-profile sporting events affected by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine just got longer. When it comes to qualifying for the 2022 World Cup, a quartet of countries were slated to compete for one of the remaining spots for a European team. Those countries? The Czech Republic, Poland, Sweden and Russia.

Now, those games are in question. Why? Well, to put it bluntly, three of the national teams in question have any interest in competing against a nation that just invaded Ukraine. Poland and Sweden were first to make the announcement, with the Czech Republic following not long afterwards.

Cezary Kuleska, the head of the Football Association in Poland, made an impassioned case on social media. “Due to the escalation of the aggression of the Russian Federation towards Ukraine the Polish national team does not intend to play the play-off match against Russia,” Kuleska wrote. “This is the only right decision.”

It wasn’t long before players began voicing their support. “I can’t imagine playing a match with the Russian National Team in a situation when armed aggression in Ukraine continues,” wrote Polish captain Robert Lewandowski. “Russian footballers and fans are not responsible for this, but we can’t pretend that nothing is happening.”

As of Sunday morning, FIFA had not provided any additional comments about the situation beyond what Gianni Infantino, the organization’s president, said on Thursday. “We continue to monitor the situation. We will update on the World Cup qualifiers soon,” Infantino said. “We can take decisions immediately as soon as it’s needed.”

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