Poland’s men’s soccer team announced Saturday that it would boycott a World Cup qualifying match against Russia in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The match was scheduled to be played on March 24.
Cezary Kulesza, president of the Polish Football Assocation, said in a tweet “No more words, time to act! Due to the escalation of the aggression of the Russia Federation towards Ukraine the Polish national team does not intend to play the play-off match against Russia.” Kulesza added that the PZPN is in talks with Sweden and the Czech Republic about bringing a joint statement to FIFA.
No more words, time to act! 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. We are in talks with ?? and ?? federations to bring forward a joint statement to FIFA.
— Cezary Kulesza (@Czarek_Kulesza) February 26, 2022
The Polish national team players released a joint statement with the Polish Football Association, saying the choice to not play the game was “not an easy decision.”
“There are more important things in life than football,” the statement read. “Our thoughts are with the Ukrainian nation and our friend from the national team, Tomasz Kedziora, who is still in Kyiv with his family.”
Kedziora, 27, is a defender for Dynamo Kyiv. The statement ended with the hashtags #SolidarnizUkrainq and #NoWarPlease.
A few hours later, the Swedish Football Association announced it would also not play a possible match against Russia, “regardless of where the match is played.” Sweden also called on FIFA to cancel Russia’s playoff matches next month.
Sweden was scheduled to meet the Czech Republic on March 24 in World Cup qualifying matches, with the winner set to meet the winner of Russia-Poland in Moscow on March 29. The Czech Republic has yet to release an official statement.
“The illegal and deeply unjust invasion of Ukraine currently makes all football exchanges with Russia impossible,” Swedish soccer federation chairman Karl-Erik Nilsson said Saturday. “We therefore urge FIFA to decide that the playoff matches in March in which Russia participates will be canceled. But regardless of what FIFA chooses to do, we will not play against Russia in March.”
The decision to boycott games against Russia comes two days after Poland, Sweden and the Czech Republic said in a joint statement that they would not travel to Russia for World Cup qualifiers.
Kulesza’s tweet on Saturday was met with support from Polish leaders, including president Andrzej Duda, who replied saying “And rightly so, Mr. President. You don’t mess with bandits.” Prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki also voiced his approval and gratitude, thanking Kulesza and Polish players including Polish star Robert Lewandowski.
Lewandowski, striker for Bayern Munich and the nation’s all-time leading scorer, called the move to boycott games against Russia “the right decision.”
“I can’t imagine playing a match with the Russian National Team in a situation when armed aggression in Ukraine continues,” Lewandowski said. “Russian footballers and fans are not responsible for this, but we can’t pretend that nothing is happening.”
It is the right decision! I can’t imagine playing a match with the Russian National Team in a situation when armed aggression in Ukraine continues. Russian footballers and fans are not responsible for this, but we can’t pretend that nothing is happening. https://t.co/rfnfbXzdjF
— Robert Lewandowski (@lewy_official) February 26, 2022
Russia, Poland, Sweden and the Czech Republic are in one of three playoff-round groups from which the final three European spots in this year’s World Cup will come. Ten European countries have already clinched their spots in the opening round of UEFA World Cup qualifications.
The winner of the scheduled March 29 final between the winners of Russia-Poland and Sweden-Czech Republic would qualify for the World Cup. It remains to be seen how FIFA will decide on the representative from this group should the Poland-Russia semifinal game not be played due to the boycott.
These planned boycotts mark another significant move in the soccer world after the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) announced Friday that the Champions League final would be moved out of St. Petersburg to Paris in response to the attack on Ukraine.
“UEFA wishes to express its thanks and appreciation to French Republic President Emmanuel Macron for his personal support and commitment to have European club football’s most prestigious game moved to France at a time of unparalleled crisis,” UEFA said in a Friday statement. “Together with the French government, UEFA will fully support multi-stakeholder efforts to ensure the provision of rescue for football players and their families in Ukraine who face dire human suffering, destruction and displacement.”
Roman Abramovich, owner of the defending Champions League club Chelsea FC, said in a statement Saturday that he is “giving trustees of Chelsea’s charitable Foundation the stewardship and care of Chelsea FC.” Abramovich, who has owned the team for the past two decades, had come out in support of Russian president Vladimir Putin.
“I have always taken decisions with the Club’s best interest at heart,” Abramovich said. “I remain committed to these values. That is why I am today giving trustees of Chelsea’s charitable Foundation the stewardship and care of Chelsea FC. I believe that currently they are in the best position to look after the interests of the Club, players, staff, and fans.”
The UEFA Executive Committee said in the same statement that Russian and Ukrainian clubs and national teams competing in UEFA competitions would have to play home games at neutral sites instead of their home stadiums.
Russia’s decision to invade Ukraine has also impacted the sports world outside of soccer. Formula One issued a statement Friday that September’s Russian Grand Prix won’t be held in Sochi, saying, “It is impossible to hold the Russian Grand Prix in the current circumstances.”
The International Olympic Committee urged all international sports federations in a statement Friday to relocate or cancel events scheduled to be held in Russia or Belarus. The International Ski Federation also announced Friday that all remaining World Cup events scheduled to take place in Russia between now and the end of the season will be canceled or moved.