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Russia becoming a pariah in sports as well as politics

Sports teams and leagues across the world are joining governments in punishing Russia for its invasion of Ukraine.

PRAGUE, Czechia — The Czech Republic joined Poland and Sweden on Sunday in rejecting to play Russia in the 2022 World Cup qualifying next month in response to that nation’s invasion of Ukraine.

The Czech soccer association’s executive committee said it “unanimously approved a decision that the Czech national team will not in any case play Russia.”

The soccer federations of Poland and Sweden made the same decision on Saturday.

The Czech Republic is a potential opponent of Russia in next month’s playoffs. The winner of the Poland-Russia match is due to host Sweden or the Czech Republic on March 29 for a place at the World Cup being played in Qatar from Nov. 21-Dec. 18.

The executive committee asked Czech soccer federation head Petr Fousek to lead negotiations with UEFA and FIFA about the Czech position.

“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.”

Vladimir Putin also temporarily lost his most senior official position in world sports on Sunday.

The International Judo Federation cited “the ongoing war conflict in Ukraine” for suspending Putin’s honorary president status.

The Russian president is a keen judoka and attended the sport at the 2012 London Olympics.

The IJF is rare among Olympic sports bodies for using the word “war” to describe Russia’s invasion of Ukraine ordered by Putin on Thursday. Others have used phrases such as “escalation of conflict.”

A Kremlin-supporting oligarch and longtime friend of Putin, Arkady Rotenberg, remains on the IJF executive committee as “development manager.”

The invasion of Ukraine began just days after the end of the 2022 Winter Olympics. Analysts at the time suggested that Putin was holding off on the invasion until after the Games because he didn't want to displease China. 

Beijing, the host of the most recent Olympics, is one of Russia's few international allies remaining after U.S.-led sanctions began, seeking to punish Russia for the invasion. 

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