The Future of Russian Football: Possible Disqualification and a Transfer to the Asian Confederation
The FIFA Congress will meet in Doha on Thursday, March 31. The FIFA Congress is the supreme legislative body of the International Football Federation. The first congress was held in Paris in 1904 and it has been held regularly since 1923. The longest pause was formed during the Second World War, between 1938 and 1946, and there are also regular and extraordinary meetings of the FIFA Congress.
From what is important to know now: the FIFA Congress meets every year, the meeting place can be chosen anywhere in the world where soccer is played (in the XXI century it met in the Bahamas, Morocco and Mauritius). But during the World Cup years, the FIFA Congress meets in the host countries of the World Cup. In 2018, they met in Moscow, and now they will meet in Doha, the capital of Qatar.
At its next meeting on 31 March, the FIFA Congress will decide, among other things, the future of Russian soccer: its congress will consider suspending or expelling the RFU from FIFA. According to Nobel Arustamyan, in early March the inclusion of this crucial issue in the Congress agenda seemed unlikely, and FIFA wanted to wait with drastic decisions at least until the summer.
FIFA is not interested in excluding Russia from international soccer.
The Congress includes representatives of the 211 national soccer associations that are members of FIFA. Each FIFA member, be it Germany, the United States or Papua New Guinea, has one vote in Congress, and each delegate, with some peer support, can put an issue to a vote.
FIFA found itself under pressure from several federations, which insistently called for a discussion of the RAF’s fate at the next Congress meeting. It would have been impossible to ignore this topic in any case, given the belligerent mood of the federations dispersing the sanctions against soccer in Russia. In a sense, we had to be proactive, and the issue would have been raised at the Congress in Doha in any event.
FIFA, unlike other sports organizations, was in no hurry to subject Russian soccer to categorical ostracism, especially since there is no legal basis for this, only the opinion of part of the soccer community. The suspension of the Russian national team from World Cup 2022 playoff contests was an understandable decision at the time, since FIFA essentially had to choose between its own interests and the fate of one national federation; the radical refusal of Poland, the Czech Republic and Sweden to play a tie with the Russian national team also had an impact.
It’s too early to dust our heads with ashes, but the threat is real
Given FIFA’s obvious policy of levelling the waters and its desire to postpone any radical decisions until the summer, the discussion of the fate of the RFU could, in principle, not result in any fateful resolutions. People with different opinions will have access to the podium, they will speak out, and then they will formulate some general FIFA Congress opinion calling for an end to the hostilities and promise to consider the issue in more detail, depending on how the situation on the non-football fields develops. This is the most favorable outcome for us: the dissatisfied will speak out, FIFA’s position will be translated into words, and the RFU will be threatened for appearance.
The next options are much less pleasant and involve considering a form of sanctions that should be applied to the RAF and Russian soccer in general. Again, we must recall that FIFA has 211 members, and not all of them are eager to trample the sport into politics. That is, even in the case of a vote on the exclusion/suspension/suspension of the RAF as a FIFA member, supporters of extreme measures may not get a majority.
Disqualification for a couple of years or indefinite suspension of the RFU membership in FIFA
Nobel Arustamyan outlines two options for sanctions against Russian soccer, allegedly actively discussed behind the scenes:
- Disqualification for two years, of which Russia can challenge one and get a suspended sentence.
- indefinite suspension of the RFU membership. Only after an indefinite period of time will Russia be able to return to the question of its status.
It is clear that we are talking about either a temporary suspension of the RAF as a FIFA member or an indefinite suspension. However, option 1 is a very realistic scenario, given the huge desire to somehow punish Russian soccer. It would be easier to get votes for such a program, while option number two would seem excessive to many, since it would mean expelling Russia from the soccer family, which would set a dangerous precedent.
The RFU may move from UEFA to the Asian Football Confederation
Personally, I refuse to believe in an indefinite suspension of the RFU membership in FIFA, but the option of a two-year ban looks quite probable. So does a possible transition to the Asian Football Confederation, even though the former head of the RFU called it nonsense.
Firstly, there is a mechanism for switching from one confederation to another: the relatively recent examples of Israel, Kazakhstan (from Asia to Europe) and Australia (from Oceania to Asia) confirm this. Secondly, European teams from “unfriendly countries” can continue to pose as Poland, the Czech Republic and Sweden, which would jeopardise UEFA’s interests, while in Asia most countries have no such sentiments.
More than three-quarters of Russia’s territory belongs to Asia, giving it the formal right to change its place. The chances of Russian clubs winning the Champions League will increase dramatically, and the national team will be able to compete for the title of the strongest in Asia. True, international players will have to live on planes. Of course, the best thing is to stay in UEFA, but perhaps an escape to the Asian Confederation will be the only chance for Russian soccer to maintain access to the international arena.