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World Cup ban, refusal to play Russians: Sport reacts to invasion of Ukraine

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has sparked widespread reaction in the sports world, with the country booted out of this year’s World Cup and the IOC calling for a global sporting ban.

AFP Sport looks at some of the main developments:

FOOTBALL

• Russia is expelled from the 2022 World Cup after being suspended from all international competitions, FIFA and UEFA announce in a joint statement. The decision also affects Russian clubs in European tournaments.

• The Russian men’s team was due to play in qualifying play-offs in March for the World Cup in Qatar later this year, while its women’s side had qualified for the European Championship in England, to be held in July.

• The Polish FA had previously insisted they would not play Russia in a World Cup play-off semi-final. Poland were due to play in Moscow on March 24, with the winners scheduled to face Sweden or the Czech Republic, who had also said they would boycott any game against Russia.

• UEFA also announces that it is ending its partnership with Russian state energy giant Gazprom, which was believed to have been paying around 40 million euros ($45 million) a year in a deal due to run until 2024.

• Saint Petersburg were stripped as hosts of UEFA’s Champions League final set for May 28. The game has been switched to the Stade de France in Paris.

• At Wembley on Sunday, Chelsea skipper Cesar Azpilicueta and Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson carried flowers in Ukraine’s yellow and blue colours onto the pitch before kick-off in the English League Cup final. One supportive banner in Ukraine’s blue and yellow colours read “You’ll never walk alone” in reference to Liverpool’s anthem.

• On Saturday, Chelsea’s billionaire Russian owner Roman Abramovich said he was handing over the “stewardship and care” of the Premier League club to the trustees of its charitable foundation. In his statement, there was no mention of the crisis in Ukraine.

IOC

• The International Olympic Committee urges sports federations and organisers to exclude Russian and Belarusian athletes and officials from international events. A ban of this kind would see Russia join the Yugoslavia of Slobodan Milosevic and South Africa under apartheid rule as major sporting pariahs.

TENNIS

• Ukraine’s Elina Svitolina becomes the first tennis player to refuse to play a Russian. The former world number three says she will not face opponents from Russia or Belarus. She had been due to face Russian Anastasia Potapova in Monterrey on Tuesday. Svitolina, who was born in Odessa, had already pledged to donate her prize money from forthcoming tournaments to her country’s military and aid groups.

• Svitolina’s compatriot Dayana Yastremska said she and her family spent two nights sheltering underground in Odessa. “We didn’t realise or understand what was going on. It was crazy. It wasn’t a movie or a video game. We were very shocked. We left the apartment to take shelter in the underground car park while the bombs continued to explode,” the former top-25 player told a press conference in Lyon on Monday.

• At the Dubai ATP event last week, Russia’s Andrey Rublev marked his semi-final win over Hubert Hurkacz by signing the camera lens on court with the message, “No war please”.

FORMULA ONE

• The Russian Grand Prix, scheduled for September 25, was cancelled, a day after defending world champion Max Verstappen and four-time champion Sebastian Vettel publicly declared their opposition to driving in the race. Verstappen said: “When a country is at war, it’s not right to run there.” Vettel added: “I will not go. I think it’s wrong to race in the country.”

• American Formula One team Haas decided not to sport the Russian colours of its title sponsor Uralkali during the last day of pre-season testing in Barcelona.

ICE HOCKEY

• The International Ice Hockey Federation suspends all Russian and Belarusian national teams and clubs from its competitions until further notice. It also strips Russia of the hosting rights for the 2023 junior world championships.

BOXING

• Boxing’s four major sanctioning bodies – the International Boxing federation, World Boxing Council, World Boxing Association and World Boxing Organization – said in a joint statement they will not sanction bouts in Russia. “Just as the world claims for cease of fire, our organizations have decided to not sanction any boxing championships in Russia,” they said.

JUDO

• Russian President Vladimir Putin was suspended as honorary president of the International Judo Federation (IJF). Putin, an accomplished judoka who was awarded an eighth dan in 2014 – one of the highest levels in the sport, had been honorary president since 2008.

FENCING

• Ukrainian fencers withdrew from the world championships in Cairo to avoid a match with Russia. The male Ukrainian team, dressed in the yellow and blue of their national flag, downed their swords and picked up signs to protest. “Stop Russia! Stop the war!,” the signs read, written in English. “Save Ukraine! Save Europe”.

RUGBY

• Rugby’s world governing body banned Russia and Belarus from all international rugby “until further notice”. Russia’s membership of World Rugby was also suspended indefinitely, meaning the country’s slim hopes of qualifying for next year’s World Cup in France are over.

BADMINTON

• The Badminton World Federation (BWF) cancelled all sanctioned tournaments in Russia and Belarus, banned them from hosting future tournaments “until further notice” and ordered their flags and anthems banned from all BWF tournaments.

TAEKWONDO

• World Taekwondo said Tuesday they were stripping Vladimir Putin of an honourary black belt, as Russia’s attack on Ukraine goes against the sport’s motto: “Peace is more precious than triumph”. The body also said no Russian or Belarusian national flags or anthems will be displayed and played at events, nor will any future events be organised in the two countries.

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