Aleksander Ceferin says the situation ?breaks his heart? but defended the need to ban Russian and Belarusian teams
Football is suffering because of conflict in Ukraine and the bans imposed on Russian and Belarusian teams, according to UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin.
Speaking at the 46th UEFA Congress in Vienna on Wednesday, Ceferin discussed the suspensions levied on Russia and Belarus which last week were updated to include a ban from all UEFA tournaments in the 2022/23 season.
The UEFA boss thanked members for "showing solidarity" with Ukraine and defended the decision to remove the 2022 Champions League final from St. Petersburg to Paris, but was nonetheless regretful of the sanctions against Russian football.
"When UEFA breaks with tradition, leaves its comfort zone, and abandons its position of sporting neutrality, then football is not the winner," said Ceferin.
"Football is undoubtedly the loser... one of the losers since we are depriving players, coaches and supporters who have nothing do with the current situation of their passion and their dreams."
Ceferin, who is Slovenian, recalled the experience of the bans imposed on Yugoslavian football during the early 1990s.
"And it breaks my heart, my dear friends. My own region experienced this 30 years ago, when it was ostracized by the international community and sports organizations and I know how cruel it can be...," added the UEFA official
"But when UEFA issues unprecedented sanctions, football is trying to make its own tiny contribution to society and Europe's leaders as they strive for peace [on our] continent... Promoting football in Europe in a spirit of peace that is also a statutory objective of UEFA.
"It may be seen as a dangerous precedent but in this case the cause is greater than anything else. The cause is greater than the careers of a few hundred footballers and the tradition of sporting neutrality that is no longer tenable in 2022 in the situation of war.
"All we can do now is hope that reason prevails as quickly as possible and that order is restored. That we have peace. For the good not only of our Ukrainian brothers and sisters, but also for our Russian brothers and sisters. And I hope that they are back with us as soon as possible," added Ceferin.
The remarks echoed previous comments Ceferin has made lamenting the need for sanctions against Russia and Belarus, but defending them as a necessary measure.
UEFA first moved alongside FIFA to impose a suspension on Russian and Belarusian teams at the end of February, based on recommendations from the International Olympic Committee (IOC).
Consequently, the Russian men's team have been deprived of the chance to qualify for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, while the women's national team have been removed from this summer's European Championship in England. A Russian bid to host the men's Euro 2028 or 2032 tournaments was also dismissed by UEFA.
The Russian Football Union (RFU) is appealing the UEFA and FIFA bans with the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) in Switzerland, with a final decision still pending.
The RFU confirmed before this week's UEFA Congress that it was sending a delegation to Vienna despite the bans imposed on the country.