NYON, Switzerland (AP) — UEFA made two moves toward partially reintegrating Russia into European soccer on Tuesday despite the ongoing war in Ukraine.
The European soccer governing body decided to try reintroducing Russian under-17 teams into its competitions this season. That’s an easing of a blanket ban on national and club teams from international play imposed within days of the Russian invasion starting in February 2022.
UEFA said it was “aware that children should not be punished for actions whose responsibility lies exclusively with adults and is firmly convinced that football should never give up sending messages of peace and hope.”
The UEFA executive committee decision was announced during a Women’s Nations League game in Armenia that was the first European game handled by Russian match officials during the war.
Russian referees were not specifically banned by UEFA from its games but none were chosen until Vera Opeykina and three assistants were picked this month for the Armenia-Kazakhstan game. Kazkahstan won 2-1 in Armavir.
Travel issues around Europe for Russian citizens — facing difficulties on visas and with limited flight options — have been a factor in UEFA not appointing referees, and it was not immediately clear Tuesday where Russian youth teams could now play.
UEFA said it would now try to draft rules for including, and adding, Russian youth national teams for boys and girls — even if competitions draws already were made.
“It is particularly aggrieving that, due to the enduring conflict, a generation of minors is deprived of its right to compete in international football,” UEFA said, adding all games involving Russian teams “shall be played without the country flag, anthem, national playing kit and not on the Russian territory.”
“At the same time, the executive committee reiterated its condemnation of Russia’s illegal war and confirmed that the suspension of all other teams of Russia (clubs and national teams) will remain in force until the end of the conflict in Ukraine,” UEFA said.
UEFA last year also terminated a long-time Champions League sponsorship deal with Russia state energy firm Gazprom. The 2022 Champions League final also was moved from the Gazprom-owned stadium in St. Petersburg to Paris at three months’ notice.
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