Three days after having drawn a match, during a meeting in Iran (1-1) sometimes qualified as“friendly” sometimes from“exhibition” by the local media, the national football team of Russia receives Iraq, Sunday September 26 in Saint-Petersburg. Banned from world sport since the start of the war in Ukraine, Russian sport is struggling to find opponents willing to face its teams. “The activity of our national team is not frozen, but people are not rushing to play with us”, acknowledged the Deputy Secretary General of the Russian Football Federation, Denis Rogachev, earlier this week in the Duma – the Russian Parliament – comments reported by the Russian agency TASS. Mr Rogachev assures “negotiate a gradual return to competition”.
Of it, the football team of Belarus does not miss. On Saturday March 25, Belarusian players “receive” Switzerland on neutral ground, in Novi Sad (Serbia), for their entry into the running for the Euro 2024 qualifiers. Because if more than a year after the start of the war in Ukraine many international sports federations have banned or restricted the participation of Russian and Belarusian teams and athletes in their competitions, the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) operates a difference between the two countries.
In the fall, despite a request from German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser to exclude the country from qualifying for the continental competition – organized in Germany in 2024 – because of its support for Russia, UEFA has chosen to maintain Belarus among the fifty-three nations in the running, while imposing on the country, which has never qualified for any international competition, to play its home matches on neutral ground and behind closed doors.
MEPs call for the country’s exclusion
The spring of 2023 is blooming with decisions concerning the return – or not – of Russian and Belarusian athletes to international competitions. Fencing approved it in early March, when athletics extended their sideline, and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) is to put the subject on the agenda of its executive board, from 28 March.
But as the debate continues to swell, Belarus’ participation in the Euro qualifiers could come to a halt. According to the German television channel ARD, UEFA intends to look into the question of a possible exclusion from the selection of the country led by Alexander Lukashenko during its next executive committee, Tuesday, April 4.
“It has long been UEFA’s intention to discuss the situation in Belarus at our next executive committee meeting”, assured Aleksander Ceferin, the president of UEFA, in a letter dated Friday, sent to several deputies of the European Parliament and revealed by ARD. At the initiative of Polish MEP Tomasz Frankowski – who is also a former Bialo-Czerwoni (Belarusian White and Red) international – around a hundred MEPs from all political stripes asked UEFA in mid-March to exclude Belarus from its competitions, due to its links with Russia and the human rights situation in the country.
Pending a possible decision which would see it join Russia among the banished from world football, the Belarusian selection is playing the start of the Euro playoffs on Sunday. And Switzerland would have done well to play this meeting in Serbia, because of its many players of Albanian and Kosovar origin – the war in the former Yugoslavia having already been invited during clashes between the two teams. In Group I of the Euro qualifiers is also Kosovo, a nation that Serbia does not recognize. What promises geopolitical telescoping to continue if Belarus continues on its way.