Isolated from European and international competitions, Russian football risks going backwards, one of the country’s leading sports broadcasters told Reuters, but must keep knocking on doors to try and find a way back.
Both European football body UEFA and global football’s governing body FIFA decided that all Russian teams - national or club sides - would be suspended from participation in their competitions following Moscow’s decision to despatch troops to Ukraine in February 2022.
Zenit St Petersburg’s extravagant celebrations as it clinched its fifth successive league title last month with a squad boasting several Brazilians and a couple of Colombians shows that there is still life in domestic football for now.
But sports presenter Dmitry Guberniev said Russia’s international exile would degrade the domestic game. “Of course, athletes, football players suffer, without a doubt,” he said.
“We won’t pretend it’s not happening... it’s going backwards because we don’t play in European cups and our national team unfortunately plays only friendlies.”
The Russian Football Union (RFU) has touted switching from UEFA to the 47-nation Asian confederation (AFC), an idea Guberniev dismissed. “It’s easy to quit (UEFA) but difficult to return. Besides, it’s not that the Asian federation will welcome us with open arms,” he said, pointing to likely opposition from Australia, Japan and South Korea. Even facing difficulties, maintaining contacts with UEFA and FIFA is paramount, he said.
“We need to try to knock even on those closed doors, to explain, relate, promote,” he said. “Keeping the dialogue is very important. We must not close ourselves up in any way.”
‘HUNGRY AND ANGRY’
Aside from the clubs and players, match officials are also barred from international competition. Russia’s top referee, Sergey Karasev, 44, who has officiated at a World Cup, is not hopeful of a return to the top after a “painful” 16-month absence.
“Honestly, the chance is slim. It would be the ultimate miracle if this happens,” he told Reuters.
“I have spent almost two years without international matches. Even if it happens in the near future, I don’t know if I can quickly return.”
Karasev said less money in the economy may put pressure on smaller teams, but believes the domestic game can still thrive. “Our guys are hungry and angry; they want to prove themselves. So, I think in the near future we will get good top level Russian football players,” Karasev said.
But for the fans, missing out on the chance to see their country and clubs represented at the top level is a sore blow. “It’s bad, of course it’s bad that we left Europe,” Zenit fan Yevgeny Bagayev told Reuters in St. Petersburg.
“We always looked forward to our team being in the Champions League and the Europa League – it’s like a religion and we always longed for it.”
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