Russia’s expulsion from international soccer ahead of the World Cup qualifiers playoffs has opened another urgent case at the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), where the country is racking up generally favorable rulings.
The Russian Football Union is ready and waiting to file a formal appeal on Friday against a joint decision this week by FIFA and UEFA to ban the country’s national team and clubs from international competition.
Punishing soccer teams for the fact that their country went to war is something not seen since Yugoslavia was sanctioned 30 years ago. And the situation has sparked a legal dispute with little time left to resolve it.
In 20 days, the Russian national team is scheduled to face Poland in the semi-final of the play-off of the World Cup qualifier. The playoff final will take place five days later, and will distribute tickets to the World Cup in Qatar.
Still, that timeline is longer than the one CAS had in Beijing last month to rule on the case of 15-year-old Russian figure skating star Kamila Valieva.
Russian sport won that contest at the Winter Olympics. How will the next battle fare?
In the end, the Valieva ruling was provisional, about whether it was fair to ban or allow an athlete to compete in a potentially career-defining event that takes place every four years. The case of alleged doping will be dealt with later.
The appeal by Russian soccer could also seek an interim ruling from the three judges, who will weigh whether keeping the ban in place could cause “irreparable harm” to players who want a chance to advance to the World Cup.
Soccer reacted on Monday, after the International Olympic Committee urged sports bodies to isolate Russia for invading Ukraine. Teams, athletes and even the rights to organize events were affected.
FIFA and UEFA leaders held emergency meetings and soon decided that Russian teams would be suspended from their competitions.
“Football is totally united here and shows absolute solidarity with all affected people in Ukraine,” they said.
Neither disclosed their legal reasons. These have been structured by lawyers in Zurich and Nyon, in order to send them to the Russian Federation as a basis for appeals.
Only the teams were affected, including Spartak Moscow, expelled by UEFA from the Europa League ahead of the round of 16 matches scheduled for March 10 and 17.
But the Russian Football Union was not suspended, and its chairman, Gazprom executive Alexander Dyukov, remained on UEFA’s executive body.
The FIFA statutes, which govern the world soccer body, have included a human rights policy since 2016.
“FIFA is committed to respecting all internationally recognized human rights and will fight to promote their protection,” says Article 3.
FIFA’s case has been strengthened by a prosecutor from the International Criminal Court now investigating war crimes charges in Ukraine.
This could also be problematic for sports organizations that prohibit political pronouncements. And it would draw attention to the fact that human rights have undoubtedly been violated in other FIFA member countries.
“This takes us in a direction that is quite difficult for FIFA and UEFA to manage, and which deviates from the history of political neutrality,” said Antoine Duvall, a sports law expert at the Asser Institute in The Hague.
FIFA and UEFA also have tournament rules, which allow them to take action.
A World Cup regulation allows FIFA to intervene “in its sole discretion and take whatever action it deems necessary” for force majeure — an uncontrollable event, which can include war.
The Europa League rules, drawn up by UEFA, also include an “unforeseen circumstances” clause.
A special element is the public refusal of several UEFA associations to play any match against a Russian team. In effective terms it is a boycott imposed by the power of the players against Russia.
This includes the three nations in their World Cup playoff bracket: Poland, Sweden and the Czech Republic.
“We can’t pretend that nothing happens,” said Polish captain Robert Lewandowski, named FIFA’s player of the year.
Sweden’s Karl-Erik Nilsson, vice president of UEFA, said the “illegal and deeply unjust invasion of Ukraine makes any football settlement with Russia impossible.”
A position was taken in favor of morality and not safety. And this created a dilemma for FIFA. Taking disciplinary action against three members for refusing to play would give belligerent Russia a free ticket to the World Cup.
This is part of Russia’s legal argument. On Thursday, the Russian Football Union stressed that the decision of FIFA and UEFA “was taken under pressure from direct rivals in the playoffs, which violated the principle of sport and the rules of fair play.”
Russia wants the entire case resolved this month on the fast track. This would hardly obtain the consent of FIFA and UEFA.
The next option is to seek an interim ruling that freezes all punishments until the entire case can be heard in the weeks and months to come.
This would allow Russia to compete, as Valieva did in Beijing, with an asterisk on the result, pending a future legal ruling.
There is a precedent for a short-term victory in a case that was ultimately lost.
Just before the 2018 World Cup in Russia, Peruvian captain Paolo Guerrero’s lawyers convinced a Swiss Supreme Court judge to freeze his suspension for a doping case brought before FIFA and CAS.
The judge considered it unfair to prevent Guerrero, 34, from playing his first World Cup, “the glory that would crown his career.”
Melissa Galbraith is the World News reporter for Globe Live Media. She covers all the major events happening around the World. From Europe to Americas, from Asia to Antarctica, Melissa covers it all. Never miss another Major World Event by bookmarking her author page right here.