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Ceferin: Return of Russian youth teams could help overcome hate

UEFA President Aleksander Ceferin holds a ball in his hand for a photo after an interview with the German Press Agency. Tom Weller/dpa
UEFA President Aleksander Ceferin holds a ball in his hand for a photo after an interview with the German Press Agency. Tom Weller/dpa

UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin welcomes the debate about a return of Russian youth teams to international football competition in an effort to help overcome a growing climate of hate but also said there was no overall pressure to bring Russia back.

Europe's UEFA and the world governing body FIFA banned all Russian teams from international events shortly after the start of Russia's invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.

This position has not changed amid the ongoing war, and a UEFA plan from September to re-admit Russian youth teams as neutrals ended after more than 10 national federations said they would not play against them, and technical reasons then also cited.

Ceferin told dpa in an interview that a return could have broken down barriers.

"Children in Russia are raised under propaganda that we don’t like them, we hate them, we don’t accept them. In the moment they would come to Germany and get a hug from the 15-, 16-year-olds from Germany, Slovenia or wherever they would think differently," he said.

"At the moment, entire generations are being raised to hate even more. The situation in Europe is frightening. I’m scared about that."

He asked "why should children be impacted who are not even voting in their country," but conceded "there is no way to do it for now because some federations are under huge influence or pressure from their governments."

While Russian athletes will be allowed to compete as neutrals in individual sports under strict criteria at this summer's Paris Olympics, Ceferin said that UEFA had no such plans or pressure at the moment.

"There is no pressure and we never had any pressure to bring them back," he said.

"Usually I’m against any boycotts. But in this situation we just had to do it. And we were among the first who did it. I don’t think football will help a lot. But each of us can do a bit."