Court ruling for FIFA over Russia paves way for continued sporting bans amid war


Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine will continue to cost Russia a place in international football competitions. (Photo by Tom Jenkins)

The Court of Arbitration for Sport has dismissed Russian appeals against bans on global football, seemingly paving a legal path to long-term sporting sanctions against Russian athletes amid the war in Ukraine.

The Football Union of Russia made the appeal shortly after FIFA, the global football governing body, and UEFA, the European football federation, banned Russian clubs and national teams from all competitions less than a week after the start of the Russian invasion. FIFA and UEFA have since applied the decision to the 2022 Men’s World Cup, 2023 Women’s World Cup, 2022-23 Champions League and other tournaments.

Russia argued that governing bodies had no legal right to do so and that they were violating their own rules of “political neutrality.” But CAS, the highest international sports tribunal, ruled on Friday that both FIFA and UEFA “acted within the discretionary powers afforded them under their respective statutes and regulations”.

The ruling reinforced FIFA’s stance, but also seemed to confirm dozens of other bans on Russian athletes in international sport – some of which have also been challenged or may be challenged. In the days and weeks after the International Olympic Committee recommended sports federations “not to invite or allow Russian and Belarusian athletes to participate,” international governing bodies for hockey, gymnastics, swimming, ice skating and other sports followed football’s lead.

Some indicated that the indefinite suspensions were sanctions. “The world is appalled by what Russia has done, supported and instigated by Belarus,” Sebastian Coe, the president of World Athletics, the athletics governing body, said at the time. “Governments, companies and other international organizations have imposed sanctions and measures against Russia in all sectors. Sport must join this effort to end this war and restore peace.”

In order to legally justify the suspensions, however, FIFA made it clear in the court proceedings in March that its decision was “not a sanction”, according to CAS. It cited statements from players and football associations in Poland, Sweden and the Czech Republic, Russia’s potential opponents in the 2022 World Cup qualifiers, that they would refuse to occupy the same field as Russia. According to a CAS document, FIFA argued that these decisions were “entirely understandable” and that if other nations take similar stances, “the consequences [for the World Cup] would be irreparable and messy.”

CAS has not yet released the full reasons for Friday’s verdict, but in a press release it said its three-judge panel had sided with FIFA. “The panel deemed it unnecessary to characterize the nature of the conflict between Russia and Ukraine, but to focus only on the consequences of such a conflict for the competitions concerned,” CAS wrote.

“The panel finds it unfortunate that the current military operations in Ukraine, for which Russian football teams, clubs and players themselves are not responsible, have had such an adverse impact on them and Russian football in general, due to the decisions of FIFA and UEFA, but this Impacts were offset by the need for safe and orderly staging of football events for the rest of the world, according to the panel.”

The IOC had adopted similar arguments in public comments. “Let me reiterate that these are safeguards – not sanctions – measures to protect the integrity of competitions,” IOC President Thomas Bach told Olympic officials from around the world in May.

The logic, parroted by the IOC and many international sports federations, was simple. A spokesman for FIG, the governing body for gymnastics, told Emox News via email this week: “It is evident that allowing Russian and Belarusian athletes to compete in the current situation, while Ukrainian athletes are unable to compete due to Bombs in your country are threatened by war.”

FIFA’s arguments in March went one step further. One of its core tasks, explained FIFA, is the organization of world cups. It envisaged controversy and refusals to play, and perhaps even security concerns should Russia be invited. US Soccer, for example, said on February 28 that it “would not dull our global game nor dishonor Ukraine by taking the same field as Russia, regardless of the level of competition or circumstances, until freedom and peace are restored.” . “

In any sport, at any event where athletes explicitly represent their countries, officials could expect similar denials. Many national sports federations take their cues from their governments. In early July, government officials from dozens of countries, including the US, reiterated their position that Russian and Belarusian athletes should be banned from all international competitions.

While the war is ongoing and almost five months old, most governing bodies have retained this position – and in many cases justified it for the same reasons as FIFA and UEFA. Friday’s CAS ruling sets a precedent that Russia would theoretically find difficult to overturn.

It’s unclear what might lead to bans being lifted at this point, or what the timeline for easing sanctions might be.

Asked what could lead to the reinstatement of Russian and Belarusian gymnasts, the FIG spokesman wrote earlier this week: “The end of the war, which begins in-depth discussions with the various stakeholders.”

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