Sport reacts to Russian invasion of Ukraine

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Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has sparked widespread backlash in the sports world, with demands even for the country to be kicked out of this year’s World Cup.

AFP Sport looks back on some of the main developments:

SOCCER

– France, reigning world champions, demand that Russia be expelled from the 2022 World Cup. “The world of sport, and in particular football, cannot remain neutral. I certainly would not oppose expulsion from Russia,” said the president of the French Football Federation, Noël Le Graet.

– FIFA tells Russia to play home matches at neutral venues, ban its flag and anthem. Russian teams will play as “Football Union of Russia”. The governing body admits, however, that it will continue its dialogue with other sports organizations to determine additional measures “including a possible exclusion from competitions”.

– The Polish FA once again insist they will not face Russia in a World Cup play-off. “Today’s decision by FIFA is completely unacceptable,” Polish FA President Cezary Kulesza tweeted. “Our position remains intact: the Polish national team will NOT play with Russia, regardless of the name of the team.” Poland are due to play in Moscow on March 24. If Russia wins, they are expected to host the winners of a game between the Czechs and Swedes on March 29. Sweden and the Czech Republic also refused to play against Russia.

– St Petersburg have been stripped as hosts of the UEFA Champions League final set for May 28. The match was transferred to the Stade de France in Paris.

– On Sunday at Wembley, Chelsea skipper Cesar Azpilicueta and Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson carried flowers in the yellow and blue colors of Ukraine onto the pitch ahead of the start of the League Cup final. A banner of support in the blue and yellow colors of Ukraine read “You will never walk alone” in reference to the Liverpool anthem.

– On Saturday, Chelsea’s billionaire Russian owner Roman Abramovich said he was handing over the “stewardship and care” of the Premier League club to the trustees of his charitable foundation. In his statement, there was no mention of the crisis in Ukraine.

TENNIS

— Ukrainian Elina Svitolina pledges to donate her prize money from upcoming tournaments to military and humanitarian groups in her country. “I pledge to redistribute prize money from my future tournaments to support military and humanitarian needs and help defend you, our country,” the 27-year-old, Odessa-born, wrote on Twitter. Svitolina, a former world number three now at 15 in the rankings, is next due to play in Indian Wells in March where the champion is awarded $1.2 million.

– At the Dubai ATP event, Russia’s Andrey Rublev scored his semi-final victory over Hubert Hurkacz by signing the on-court camera lens with the message “No war please”.

– Ukrainian Dayana Yastremska said she and her family spent two nights underground in Odessa. “After spending two nights in the underground car park, my parents made the decision at all costs to send me and my little sister out of Ukraine! Mom, dad, we love you very much, take care!!! I you love my country”, wrote the former player of the top 25.

FORMULA ONE

– The Russian Grand Prix, scheduled for September 25, has been called off, a day after reigning world champion Max Verstappen and four-time champion Sebastian Vettel publicly declared their opposition to race driving. Verstappen said, “When a country is at war, it’s not right to run into it.” Vettel added: “I won’t go. I think it’s wrong to race in the country.”

– The American Formula 1 team Haas has decided not to sport the Russian colors of its title sponsor Uralkali during the last day of pre-season testing in Barcelona.

BOXING

– Boxing’s four major sanctioning bodies – the International Boxing Federation, World Boxing Council, World Boxing Association and World Boxing Organization – said in a joint statement they would not sanction fighting in Russia. “Just as the world calls for a ceasefire, our organizations have decided not to sanction any boxing championship in Russia,” they said.

JUDO

– Russian President Vladimir Putin has been suspended as honorary president of the International Judo Federation (IJF). Putin, an accomplished judoka who earned an eighth dan in 2014, one of the highest levels in the sport, has been honorary president since 2008.

FENCING

— Ukrainian fencers withdrew from the world championships in Cairo to avoid a match against Russia. The Ukrainian men’s team, dressed in the yellow and blue of their national flag, pulled down their swords and picked up signs in protest. “Stop Russia! Stop the war!” read the placards, written in English. “Save Ukraine! Save Europe”.

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