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FIFA boss explains decision to ban Russian teams

FIFA president Gianni Infantino
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FIFA president Gianni Infantino has said it was “not an easy decision” to suspend Russian teams from competitions, expressing hope that they would soon be allowed to return.

FIFA and European football counterparts UEFA imposed a ban on all Russian national teams and clubs at the end of February after Moscow launched its military operation in Ukraine.

Speaking in Qatari capital Doha at a FIFA Congress on Thursday, Infantino gave an insight into the decision.

“It’s not an easy decision, of course not, because it’s about people who love football, like everywhere else,” said the FIFA boss.

“But we had to take the decision, and now we have to look forward and hope that the hostilities can stop and we can bring a little bit of peace.”

Some among the Russian media had feared that an agenda item at the congress titled “suspension or expulsion of a member association” would involve a vote on the future of the Russian Football Union (RFU), although it transpired that the focus was instead on Pakistan, Zimbabwe and Kenya for recent breaches of protocol.

Russian football representatives were present in Qatar, while the audience heard from Ukrainian Association of Football president Andriy Pavelko via video message from Kiev.

Infantino was asked why Russian officials were allowed to attend considering the current situation – something he defended vigorously.

“The decision [to suspend Russian teams] has been taken around a month ago. The Russian Football Union has appealed that decision at the CAS [Court of Arbitration for Sport], they are awaiting the result of these deliberations,” said the FIFA chief.

“I sincerely hope the conflict can end and we’ll be there the first day to play football again.

“That’s what is needed in these countries. Russia as a football union, like any other federation, has not been suspended as such by FIFA, and has been participating in this congress as well.   

“If we don’t have occasions to bring people together like a congress, then we’d rather stop and go home.”

Infantino was asked if the suspension handed out to Russian teams would set a precedent, and that any nation perceived as an aggressor in future would automatically be slapped with a similar ban.

“FIFA is acting everywhere in the world. We have to treat the same situations in the same way, and different situations in a different way,” Infantino replied.

“We have to analyze every situation in the same way. You say we acted swiftly, I also heard we acted slowly. Any decision you take may be the wrong one, we will know with time.

“We analyze every situation on its own merits, and based on our conscience, we try to take the decision we feel is the right one in these particular circumstances.”

Infantino appeared to suggest there were double-standards in how the Ukrainian crisis had been treated compared to other conflicts around the world.

“Of course there are other situations of conflict, there are others suffering… It’s great that Europe welcomes Ukrainian refugees,” he said.

“But a couple of months ago, we helped a couple of hundred Afghanis, mainly women and girls, with the help of Qatar, to come out of Afghanistan.

“I was, we were, begging all countries to open up their doors, few opened their doors. Albania did, not the richest country in the world, but they did.

“Many other countries didn’t. How can you treat a girl or a woman differently based on where they are from?” Infantino asked.