Awillo Stephanus (Guest Columnist)
I heard that Fifa and Uefa took a shocking decision to banish the Russian national football team and all football clubs from Russia from participating in all their competitions. The miscalculated move by Fifa and Uefa is a reaction to Russia’s military operation in Ukraine.
I was quite puzzled when I read the news because, as far as I am concerned, Fifa has over the years distinctly made it known that they do not allow football issues to be mixed with politics.
Fifa’s strong stance against political interference in football matters is widely known, and has become the yardstick of good governance for almost all football associations globally.
But time and again, we have seen Fifa imposing sanctions that are mostly triggered by third-party interference. Most recently, Kenya and Zimbabwe were banned by Fifa from football activities due to their respective governments’ purported interference.
But what is most shocking is how Fifa arrived at the decision of banning Russian football teams from all its competitions. The Russia/Ukraine issue is totally a non-football issue and clearly not Fifa-related.
Even the Russian football association itself has to date not issued a statement on the ongoing conflict because it is a non-football matter, and therefore it would not be their place to use football as a tool to divide or choose sides.
Any conflict is a two-way process, and banning Russia alone without equally placing some sort of restrictions on Ukraine seems a bit unfair, and goes against the very principles that Fifa stands for as far as fair play is concerned.
Ukraine is very much party to the ongoing conflict, and choosing sides at this hour will not be the lasting solution to the problems between the countries. Football should be used as a unifying tool, and not one to cause division.
Fifa should first have reached out to Russia through their football association and also accorded the Ukrainian side the same courtesy, just to properly acquaint themselves with the actual facts on the ground.
The very same Fifa collaborated closely with Russia when the country hosted the 2018 Fifa World Cup, and now all of a sudden, Russia has turned into an antagonist and should be banished.
In this instance, Fifa should have intervened in the ongoing crisis by using football as the unifying factor and a vehicle to help settle the conflict between the two nations. Otherwise, I feel that Fifa’s decision was a gross miscalculation and utterly biased!
* Awillo Stephanus is a Brave Warriors midfield kingpin and most recently played for AC Kajaani in Finland and Lusaka Dynamos in Zambia.