Poland, Sweden, Czech Republic won't play Russia in World Cup qualifying playoff due to Ukraine invasion

Poland, Sweden and now the Czech Republic are refusing to play Russia for a spot in the 2022 World Cup because of Russia's decision to invade Ukraine.

The president of Poland's soccer association said Saturday morning that the country would not be playing Russia following the invasion earlier this week. Poland was drawn against Russia in Path B for one of the three available World Cup spots through UEFA's qualifying playoffs.

The Poland versus Russia game is scheduled for March 24.

The southeast border of Poland is next to Ukraine and many Ukrainians had fled to Poland in recent days after Russia attempted its unlawful and unprovoked invasion of the country.

Poland's refusal to play against Russia comes after Poland, Sweden and the Czech Republic said they wouldn't play a qualifier in Russia because of the invasion. Sweden adopted the same stance as Poland on Saturday, saying it also would not play Russia in the World Cup playoff "regardless of where the match is played," per The Guardian.

The Czech Republic is the other team in Path B; the winner of Poland-Russia would play the winner of Sweden versus Czech Republic for a spot in the World Cup. The Czech soccer association's executive committee said Sunday it "unanimously approved a decision that the Czech national team will not in any case play Russia," per the Associated Press.

“The Czech FA executive committee, staff members and players of the national team agreed it’s not possible to play against the Russian national team in the current situation, not even on the neutral venue,” the federation said in a statement. “We all want the war to end as soon as possible.”

Czech soccer federation head Petr Fousek was asked to lead negotiations with UEFA and FIFA regarding the World Cup qualifying games and Russia.

Poland captain Robert Lewandowski is in full support of his country's decision not to play against Russia. The Bayern Munich striker is one of the most well-known players in the world and his words carry significant weight in world soccer.

UEFA announced Friday that the 2022 Champions League final set for St. Petersburg had been moved to Paris in the wake of the Russian invasion. The refusal of Poland to play Russia also puts pressure on FIFA and UEFA to act even further and maybe even kick Russia out of World Cup qualifying altogether.

That would be a drastic step, especially for a FIFA that has been especially friendly to Russia and Vladimir Putin. The 2018 World Cup was held in Russia and FIFA president Gianni Infantino tried to say at the time that the tournament showed how Russia and Putin were misunderstood. Putin has even given Infantino a friendship medal and thanked the FIFA president for his "glowing assessment of our efforts" when presenting him with the medal.

"You welcomed the world as friends and those bonds of friendship will never be broken," Infantino said after receiving Putin's award in 2019. “This is not the end; it is only the beginning of our fruitful cooperation and interaction. On behalf of the whole football world, which means four or five billion people across the globe, thank you very much.”

Poland won't play Russia in its World Cup qualifier because of the Ukraine invasion.
Poland won't play Russia in its World Cup qualifier because of the Ukraine invasion. (Photo by Pedro Salado/Quality Sport Images/Getty Images)