FIFA and UEFA Cannot Ignore Two Wars
First, before we get into politics or sport or the confluence thereof, let’s take a minute for the important thing – 295 people who had nothing to do with the Ukrainian conflict are dead in Ukraine. May they all rest in peace and may something useful be learned from the tragedy, rather than just another excuse to kill each other.
FIFA and UEFA both have a major problem in the oil-rich but increasingly aggressive country of Russia, the host of the 2018 World Cup, as well as in Israel. Neither country likes to call its conflict a war or an invasion, but that doesn’t change the fact that daily life in both has become more dangerous for athletes, journalists, coaches and spectators than most can tolerate. Today’s downing of a Malaysian Airlines 777 passenger jet over Ukraine comes in stark contrast to yesterday’s announcement from UEFA that grounds in Ukraine were safe to host European matches, while Israel was, for the moment at least, not.
Here are the upcoming European fixtures in Ukraine:
24 July: Zorya Luhansk vs. KF Laçi – Europa League 2nd Qualifying Round
29-30 July: Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk vs. (Unknown) – Champions League 3rd Qualifying Round
28 August: Metalist Kharkiv vs. (Unknown) – Europa League Playoff Round
September – December: Three home matches for Shakhtar Donetsk – Champions League Group Stage
September – December: Three home matches for Dynamo Kyiv – Europa League Group Stage
And there will be more, if any of these teams progress, as Luhansk is likely to do after winning their away leg 3-0 today.
It is certainly in FIFA’s best interest to downplay the Russian aggression into Ukraine, just as they did with the protests and unrest in Brazil. UEFA, meanwhile, should be able to take a harder line and a more cautious approach. In any case, there should certainly be no international football played in a war zone, and declaration or not, that’s what these two places are right now.