How Russia's national team is still playing despite Fifa & Uefa bans

Russia played their first game on home soil since the invasion of Ukraine against Iraq
Russia played their first game on home soil since the invasion of Ukraine against Iraq / SOPA Images/GettyImages

“Forget Russia” was the sentiment encouraged by Ukraine’s caretaker manager Ruslan Rotan ahead of his country's trip to England to kick-off their Euro 2024 qualifying campaign.

Russia, however, aren't going away just like that.

Vladimir Putin's full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 was almost universally condemned, and the Russian President's woeful miscalculation meant the swift success he envisaged never materialised. The war continues to drag on, and the end is not yet in clear sight.

Putin's ego has not only crippled Ukraine, but his own people have suffered, too - albeit to a far lesser degree. Russian athletes have been left in the mire, with the national football team suspended from all FIFA and UEFA competitions.

Isolating Russia from a financial, political, and sporting perspective was the running theme in 2022, and FIFA and UEFA have stood firm while the war continues.

UEFA & FIFA's Russia ban

It was announced on 28 February 2022 that FIFA and UEFA had suspended all Russian teams, whether national representative teams or club teams, from their competitions until further notice.

Thus, the Russian national team were unable to compete at the 2022 World Cup, while their Nations League fixtures in 2022 were all cancelled. They have also been banned from Euro 2024 qualifying.

Russian clubs, meanwhile, haven't been allowed to play in the Champions League, Europa League, or Europa Conference League since the ban was announced.

St. Petersburg was also removed as the host city for the 2022 Champions League final, which was moved to Paris, and UEFA announced that Kazan will not host the 2023 Super Cup as initially planned.

Why are Russia's national team allowed to play in friendlies?

While the Russian national team has been banned from UEFA and FIFA competitions, they can still compete in friendlies which aren't organised by the aforementioned governing bodies.

Last autumn, Russia took on Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Kyrgyzstan in friendlies. During the March international break, they faced key political ally Iran in Tehran and hosted Iraq in the first international match on Russian soil since the invasion.

Does Russia want to return to UEFA?

Absolutely. Russia have publicly stated their desire to return to UEFA despite the ongoing war.

Russia Football Union (RFU) president Alexander Dyukov — as quoted by TASS, Russia’s news agency — said in December: “We are considering the option of returning to UEFA competitions as soon as possible.

“It is important for us to take part in the 2026 World Cup qualifiers.”

Could Russia turn to Asia?

The RFU held a meeting in late 2022 and discussed the potential of resigning from UEFA in favour of joining the Asian Football Confederation (AFC). And while the idea was met with some resistance, a switch over to the AFC remains a possibility for Russia.

Denis Rogachev, the deputy secretary general of the Russian FA, recently said, “all scenarios are being considered”, with Russia set to compete in the inaugural Central Asian Championships later this year.