September 21, 2023

Russia tried to make progress Tuesday on its slow and difficult return to international sports amid its war in Ukraine at a meeting Tuesday with officials at the European soccer body UEFA.

Russian Football Union vice president Aleksandr Alaev declined to comment when leaving after three hours of face-to-face talks. They were the first since Russia drew back from a threat last month to leave UEFA and seek to join the Asian Football Confederation.

A follow-up meeting will be held in February, the Russian news service TASS said.

Russian teams are banned from UEFA and FIFA competitions during the war in Ukraine and there currently is no way back from those decisions that were upheld at the sport’s highest court.

National teams including Poland, Switzerland, and Albania had refused within days of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last February to play their scheduled games against Russia.

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When the UEFA and FIFA ban imposed on February 28, 2023, were challenged at the Court of Arbitration for Sport, judges agreed that the consequences of letting Russian teams play “would be irreparable and chaotic” for the smooth running of competitions.

Russian teams were removed from trying to qualify for the men’s and women’s World Cups, the women’s 2022 European Championship which it had qualified for, plus European youth and club competitions.

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UEFA also terminated sponsorship deals with Russian state energy firm Gazprom, moved the 2022 Champions League final from the home stadium of Zenit St. Petersburg, and banned the club from this season’s Champions League group stage.

While soccer is blocked, Olympic and sports officials worldwide had conference calls last week to explore ways — all of them complicated to help Russian athletes and teams compete soon in qualifying events for the 2024 Paris Olympics.

The International Olympic Committee has an executive board meeting Wednesday which is expected to discuss its position on Russia 18 months ahead of the Paris opening ceremony. The IOC advised sports bodies last Feb. 28 to exclude Russia from hosting and competing.

UEFA declined to comment Tuesday on meeting RFU officials Alaev and Maxim Mitrofanov, the general secretary who is a former CEO at Zenit.

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