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Sports court upholds football bans on Russian teams

LAUSANNE, SWITZERLAND (AP) – Russia remains barred from Europe’s leading football competitions including the Champions League after the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) rejected appeals by the national football federation and four clubs yesterday.

CAS upheld decisions by UEFA and FIFA which excluded Russian national teams and clubs following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Russia was already excluded from men’s World Cup qualifying and the women’s European Championship. Its clubs won’t feature in competitions like the Champions League in 2022-23.

“The panel finds it unfortunate that the current military operations in Ukraine, for which Russian football teams, clubs, and players have themselves no responsibility, had, by reason of the decisions of FIFA and UEFA, such an adverse effect on them and Russian football generally, but those effects were, in the panel’s view, offset by the need for the secure and orderly conduct of football events for the rest of the world,” CAS ruled.

The ruling adds that FIFA and UEFA did not exceed their authority while dealing with “unforeseen and unprecedented circumstances”.

The decision leaves national champion Zenit St Petersburg out of the Champions League group stage. Another Russian team, Sochi, will be left out of the Champions League third qualifying round draw, scheduled for Monday.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Russia’s football team head coach Stanislav Cherchesov in a group photo. PHOTO: AP

The decision yesterday was widely anticipated by Russian clubs. They have been making plans to schedule domestic cup games on the dates when European games will be played next season.

Russia’s national football federation said it “strongly disagrees with the CAS decision and reserves the right to continue protecting its own interests”. Next steps could include a demand for compensation or a new appeal to the Swiss supreme court.

The Swiss Federal Tribunal overturns CAS rulings only on limited grounds such as abuse of the legal process.

Among those benefitting from the decision is Ukrainian club Shakhtar Donetsk. Russia’s exclusion means it keeps a place in the Champions League group stage as the team from the next highest-ranked country. Shakhtar has not played in its home city of Donetsk in eastern Ukraine since the area was taken over by Russia-backed separatists in 2014.

Ukrainian clubs will play their European games next season at neutral venues abroad, with Shakhtar planning to host games in Poland.

The Russian men’s team has been disqualified from the ongoing Nations League, bringing automatic relegation. Its next major competition comes in March, when qualifying begins for the 2024 European Championship. The women’s national team was replaced by Portugal at the European Championship in England this month and has been removed from qualifying for next year’s World Cup. Russia also remains barred from a range of junior and age-group competitions.

CAS is also due to hear other cases involving Russian athletes and teams in numerous other sports. Many governing bodies have justified excluding Russia on similar safety grounds to those cited by UEFA.

Olympic sports have mostly followed the lead of the International Olympic Committee, which said its recommendation for athletes from Russia and its ally Belarus to be excluded is aimed at protecting those competitors from possible harm.

The football cases were among the first to be decided at CAS because of the imminent deadline for the Champions League qualifying draw.