The day before, a meeting of the executive committee of the Union of European Football Associations was held in Cyprus. As part of the event, the venue for the 2024 UEFA Super Cup match was determined, as well as the host countries of the final stages of youth tournaments for players under 17 and 19 years old, respectively, which will be held in 2025-2026. However, the most discussed and resonant was the decision of the organization to allow the men's and women's teams of Russia to the championships, as personally announced by President Aleksander Čeferin.
The Union recalled that after the start of the Special Military Operation (SVO), Russian teams and clubs were among the first to be suspended from international championships, and also canceled events previously planned in the country. In particular, St. Petersburg lost the Champions League final, and Kazan lost the UEFA Super Cup. However, they considered it right to soften the sanctions and allow juniors to compete with peers from other countries.
"UEFA recognises that children should not be punished for actions for which adults are solely responsible, and firmly believes that football must never abandon the message of peace and hope. In particular, it is distressing that, due to the ongoing conflict, an entire generation of underage players has been deprived of the right to participate in international competitions... Therefore, the executive committee of the organization decided to return Russian teams consisting of minors to participate in UEFA tournaments this season," the official statement on the organization's website says.
The Union announced its intention to find a way to include Russian national teams in the list of participants in tournaments, even if the draw has already taken place earlier. However, a number of conditions for this have also been identified. In fact, athletes will be forced to compete in a neutral status.
"All matches of Russian teams should be held without the flag of the country, the anthem, the national game uniform and not on the territory of Russia," UEFA added.
At the same time, the executive committee stressed that all indulgences apply exclusively to junior teams, while youth and adult teams, as well as clubs, will be suspended until the end of the NWO.
"By prohibiting children from participating in our tournaments, we not only do not recognize and support their fundamental right to comprehensive development, but also directly discriminate against them. By giving children the opportunity to play and compete with their peers from all over Europe, we are investing in what we hope are brighter and more capable future generations and a better tomorrow," Čeferin concluded.
Thus, several events have recently taken place at once, one way or another related to the gradual return of Russia to the international arena. The other day, referee Sergey Karasev visited the UEFA referee training camp in Switzerland, and this may well indicate his imminent appointment to an official match under the auspices of the Union. And the day before in Yerevan, the meeting of the Women's League of Nations between Armenia and Kazakhstan was served by a domestic team of judges headed by Vera Opeikina. The guests prevailed with a score of 2:1, and the referee worked more than confidently and limited herself to only two yellow cards.
"One of the executives wrote a message, saying that we had received an appointment for a UEFA match. I don't know who exactly made this decision. It feels like finding a New Year's gift under the tree. We had to go to the World Cup, which was recently held in Australia: me as VAR, Anastasia Pustovoitova as the chief referee and Ekaterina Kurochkina as an assistant. It didn't work out, then I was very upset. Now, a year and a half later, this appointment, of course, pleased. Life is made up of some puzzles. At that time he fell out like this, now he is different, "the referee admitted to the Championship.
But if the situation with Opeikina and the potential return of Karasev to work in the international arena was perceived calmly, then the news about the admission of juniors caused a serious resonance. And not only in the country, but also abroad. Thus, the Football Association of England (FA) has already reported that they do not support the position of UEFA, and their teams will not compete with teams from Russia. And subsequently, a call to boycott all matches with the participation of domestic athletes was made in Ukraine.
"British Russophobes have long had a syndrome of exclusivity - this time they excluded themselves from fair competition," Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said in a conversation with Sport-Express.
In the country, UEFA's decision was greeted with cautious optimism. Former Tom coach Valery Nepomniachtchi praised the admission of juniors, but also pointed out certain disadvantages.
"It is worth noting that, on the one hand, this is, of course, a positive sign. They are ready to allow us to do something, but on the other hand, they simply show us what we can reach: to this, please, and then it is no longer possible, which confuses me. It is unlikely that this situation gives grounds for belief in something breakthrough in every sense of the word. Speaking about the conditions, I understand that this is all an infringement of our rights, but this can be tolerated for the sake of the development of our youth, "Nepomniachtchi told RT.
The former striker of the national team Dmitry Bulykin also considered it necessary to consider this proposal. According to him, in this case, even the UEFA requirements regarding the use of the flag, anthem and national symbols should not become a stumbling block.
"I consider this appeal to be a positive moment for us, it is worth starting to work on this issue deliberately. We'll see what comes of it in the end, but, in my opinion, men's and women's youth teams should be allowed. With regards to the rules imposed on us: they must be accepted. If you start refusing now, then you can not get anything in the end - you need to use indulgences, "Bulykin said.
Vyacheslav Koloskov, Honorary President of the Russian Football Union (RFU), spoke in a similar vein. According to him, everything looks good on paper, but it can be difficult to ensure that national teams have the opportunity to play abroad.
"This is a great decision, it can only be applauded. But it is not yet known how it will be implemented in practice, because it is now difficult to fly to Europe, and some countries do not let Russians in at all. The fact that UEFA has obliged European associations to accept us is already good, but so far there are many unclear technical issues, "TASS quoted Koloskov as saying.
In turn, a member of the RFU Committee on Youth Football, Gadzhi Hajiyev, believes that the easing of sanctions against domestic teams should not put an end to talk about Russia's possible transition to the Asian Confederation (AFC).
"A highly positive decision, which, however, can lead to heartburn of individual UEFA bosses who love Russia very much. In any case, I am very happy if our boys and girls can play, it will only benefit our football. A good sign, we can say that the ice has broken. Another question is how dynamically this ice will move. Therefore, I believe that negotiations with Asia still need to continue, it is not known how this situation will develop," Hajiyev told RIA Novosti.
In turn, the former midfielder of "Spartak" Denis Glushakov considers this the beginning of the full reintegration of Russia into world football.
"Over time, everything should return to normal, they will slowly allow our guys to play in European competitions and other competitions, such as the European Championship - first at the youth level, and then at the adult level. Everything is going smoothly, everything has its time, and I think everything will be fine," Glushakov said.
At the same time, the former world heavyweight boxing champion, State Duma deputy Nikolai Valuev is more skeptical. In his opinion, there is no need to talk about the full return of the country to the international arena.
"A performance without a flag and anthem cannot be fair under any circumstances, it is not even discussed. We can only think that this is some kind of plus, but this is not an encouraging factor on the way to full recovery, "Match TV quotes Valuev.