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UEFA chiefs navigate controversy over return of Russian teams to youth championships

European football governing body UEFA has made an unexpected move to allow under-17 squads from Russia to participate in youth championships again. 

This decision comes in the wake of a blanket ban on Russian teams. The ban was imposed following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. 

Several European nations, including England and Ukraine, have expressed outrage and threatened to boycott matches against Russia, but UEFA officials have pointed out inconsistencies in the opposition.

According to Sky News, dissent emerged during a private UEFA executive committee meeting, with three of the five governing body’s rulers reportedly against the motion, including president Aleksander Ceferin. 

One of the opposing voices was former Manchester United chief executive David Gill. 

The decision to allow Russian national teams to participate in the under-17s European Championships qualifying matches from next month was eventually approved by the 20-person committee.

This decision immediately prompted the Football Association in England to announce its refusal to play against Russian teams

This stance has been supported by the UK government, which considers Ukraine one of its closest allies. 

Ukraine’s football chiefs have been actively reaching out to national associations across Europe to urge them to boycott matches against Russian teams.

While the UEFA leadership is privately addressing concerns and inconsistencies raised by some football officials, the ban on senior Russian teams remains in place as long as the war in Ukraine continues. 

This position aligns with the stance articulated by Ceferin.

Opposition to the decision came from David Gill, Laura McAllister, a Welsh official, and Zbigniew Boniek, former head of the Polish federation and a World Cup player and manager. 

UEFA has declined to comment on the specifics of the private discussions.

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