Poland, Sweden Refuse to Play Russia in World Cup Playoffs

By The Associated Press
The Associated Press
The Associated Press
February 26, 2022 Updated: February 26, 2022

WARSAW, Poland—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.”

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-Dec. 18.

Ukraine Invasion Sports
Poland’s Robert Lewandowski controls the ball during the World Cup 2022 group I qualifying soccer match between Poland and England, at the Narodowy stadium in Warsaw, Sept. 8, 2021. (Czarek Sokolowski, File/AP Photo)

“We have a hard time believing,” Nilsson added, “that FIFA will not follow our call. Russia can not join as long as this madness continues.”

Nilsson is also the first vice president at UEFA which has stripped Russia of hosting the Champions League final in St. Petersburg in May. UEFA decided Friday to move that game to Paris.

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.

European soccer body UEFA said Friday that in its competitions all Russian and Ukrainian teams must now move their home games to play in other countries.

A potential precedent for action is from 1992. Both FIFA and UEFA removed Yugoslavia from their competitions following sanctions imposed by the United Nations at the outbreak of war there.

Previously, Poland had only said it did not want to play the qualifying playoff semifinal in Moscow.

In other sports, Norway’s ski federation said Saturday that Russian skiers are not welcome to compete in the Nordic country because of “violations of international law and attacks on the Ukrainian people.”

Norway’s call directly contradicts International Ski Federation (FIS) policy announced late Friday and comes days after the winter sports power topped the Beijing Olympics medal table with a record 16 golds.

Russia’s military invasion of Ukraine since Thursday requires “international condemnation and sanctions,” the Norwegian federation said.

On Friday, FIS pulled its remaining World Cup events this season from Russia but later allowed Russians to carry on competing.

Kyiv residents braced Saturday for another night sheltering underground, as Russian troops closed in on Ukraine’s capital and skirmishes were reported on the outskirts. Ukraine’s leader claimed that Ukraine’s forces had repulsed the assault and vowed to keep fighting. “We will win,” President Volodymyr Zelensky said.