Poland and have made a defiant move against UEFA and FIFA, and have announced that they will refuse to play their World Cup play-off semi-final against Russia next month.
The world of sport has moved in the past few days to respond to the horrifying Russian invasion of Ukraine, with the Champions League final moving venues from St. Petersburg to Paris, and September's Russian Grand Prix called off.
On Saturday morning, the president of the Polish Football Association, Cezary Kuleska, confirmed that his country's team will not participate in their scheduled World Cup play-off against Russia next month, regardless of any potential venue change.
The winners of the game between Poland and Russia were drawn to play against Sweden or the Czech Republic in the play-off final. The Swedish FA joined their Polish counterparts later on Saturday, saying that they would refuse to play Russia regardless of the venue, and urged FIFA to cancel all play-off matches involving Russia.
Poland's star player Robert Lewandowski was among those to back the decision of the Polish FA.
Russia v Poland: Polish Football Association announce withdrawal from World Cup play-off
The Russian invasion of Ukraine continues to worsen, with immense numbers of Ukrainians now seeking refuge in neighbouring countries such as Poland. Saturday morning brought news of renewed missile strikes on the capital city of Kyiv. Ukraine's health minister has estimated that 198 civilians have been killed by the conflict thus far.
In such a scenario, sport feels very insignificant. Nonetheless, with major events upcoming involving Russia, UEFA and other sporting bodies have been forced into making difficult choices.
As part of their decision to move the Champions League final, UEFA also announced that any games involving Russian or Ukrainian teams would be moved until the conflict is revolved. With Russia set to host Poland in Moscow next month in a World Cup qualifier, question marks surrounded any potential playing of that game.
The President of the Polish Football Association took matters out of UEFA and FIFA's hands on Saturday morning. Cezary Kuleska tweeted on Saturday morning announcing that his association had made the decision not to play the play-off game against Russia.
Kuleska went on to state that Poland are cooperating with the two participants of the other semi-final, Sweden and Czech Republic, to come to a satisfactory decision. He said:
No more words, time to act! Due to the escalation of the aggression of the Russian Federation towards Ukraine, the Polish national team does not intend to play the play-off match against Russia. This is the only right decision. We are in talks with the Swedish and Czech federations to present a common position to FIFA.
With Sweden set to face the Czech Republic in the other semi-final, the Swedish FA joined the Polish FA on Saturday afternoon, as they shared the following statement:
The men's national team will not play against Russia - regardless of where the match is played. The Federal Board also urges FIFA to cancel the play-off matches in March in which Russia participates.
Poland's decision to pull out of the World Cup play-off match is a huge statement against the Russian invasion. It is hard to say what the consequences will be for the Polish team from here, with their hopes of World Cup qualification seemingly up in the air.
That certainly doesn't bother Bayern Munich striker Robert Lewandowski. The Pole retweeted Kuleska's statement on Saturday, firmly backing the Polish FA's decision, and said they he "could not imagine" playing against Russia while the invasion is ongoing.
It is the right decision! I can’t imagine playing a match with the Russian National Team in a situation when armed aggression in Ukraine continues. Russian footballers and fans are not responsible for this, but we can’t pretend that nothing is happening. https://t.co/rfnfbXzdjF
— Robert Lewandowski (@lewy_official) February 26, 2022
The strongest condemnation of Russia's actions from any Polish player came from Juventus man Wojciech Szczesny. The Poland goalkeeper posted a powerful message to his Instagram account, condemning Russia's invasion.
He said that he would personally refuse to play against a team representing Russia, saying:
My wife was born in Ukraine, there is Ukrainian blood running through the veins of my son, part of our family is still in Ukraine.
Seeing the suffering on their faces and fear for their country makes me realise I can't stand still and pretend that nothing has happened.
Although my heart breaks while writing this, my conscience will not let me play [against Russia].
I refuse to play against players who choose to represent the values and principles of Russia! I refuse to stand on the pitch, wearing the colours of my country and listen to the national anthem of Russia! I refuse to take part in a sporting event that legitimises the actions of the Russian government.
Leeds United midfielder Mateusz Klich also added his voice to the din against Russia. Klich, along with several other Polish players, shared a statement to his Twitter account on behalf of the squad:
We, the players of the Polish national team, together with the Polish Football Association, decided that as a result of Russia's aggression against Ukraine, we do not intend to play in the play-off match against Russia.
It is not an easy decision, but there are more important things in life than football. Our thoughts are with the Ukrainian nation and our friend from the national team Tomasz Kedziora, who is still in Kiev with his family.
It seems as though the 24th of March will come and go without a clash between Poland and Russia, and FIFA are now under pressure to find a diplomatic solution.
Poland and Sweden should be commended for their strong position against the harrowing violence in Ukraine. It remains to be seen if FIFA and UEFA have the same moral compass.