Sat. Jun 15th, 2024

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The decision to reinstate Russian teams to some European competitions faced opposition from three of the five UEFA vice presidents in a private meeting of the ruling executive committee, Sky News has learned.

British officials David Gill and Laura McAllister are understood to have been dissenting voices in Tuesday’s fraught meeting in Cyprus, along with Polish representative Zbigniew Boniek.

They are understood to have officially abstained in the decision by the 20-person committee to permit the return of Russia‘s under-17s into European competitions ahead of qualifying beginning in the coming weeks.

UEFA insisted they still cannot play under the Russian flag, use the national kit or play on home territory.

But the decision has opened up a rift in European football, with the Football Association leading opposition by insisting England teams would still not play against Russian sides.

Sweden, which is hosting the women’s U17s European Championship next May, said a Russian team would not be allowed to compete there.

Unexpectedly one of the two UEFA vice presidents​ in the vote to back Russia’s partial return was Karl-Erik Nilsson of Sweden – going against his home federation’s boycott stance.

The fifth UEFA vice president, Gabriele Gravina from Italy, is also understood to have spoken in favour of Russia’s U17s returning.

There was surprise the issue was brought up to ease the way back into football for Russia – a year and a half after UEFA took the strong stance to impose a blanket ban on all Russian teams.

David Gill (right) is understood to have been against the decision
Image:
David Gill (right) is understood to have been against the decision

UEFA declined to comment on the dissent in its own top-level meeting, insisting the talks were private.

Gill, a former Manchester United chief executive, is understood to have voiced England’s opposition to the decision.

FA chair Debbie Hewitt is a FIFA vice president but has no vote in UEFA meetings.

Another FIFA council member – Romanian football federation president Razvan Burleanu – is also understood to have used his presence in the meeting to speak against any Russian teams being readmitted but he lacked a vote.

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FIFA itself has declined to tell Sky News if it backs the UEFA decision or if it still stands by maintaining the complete ban on Russian teams it announced jointly with the European governing body in February 2022.

UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin said the decision to allow Russia’s U17s team back was to stop punishing children for decisions taken by adults – while asserting his opposition to the war.

But the players are likely to be linked to academies of elite clubs owned in some cases by oligarchs – not grassroots players. Adults would also benefit as coaches.

The ban still covers Russian club sides and senior national teams.

It prevented Russia playing at the Women’s European Championship in England in 2022 and from qualifying for the men’s and women’s World Cups.

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