The German representatives on the UEFA (Union of European Football Associations) Executive Committee, Karl-Heinz Rummenigge and Hans-Joachim Watzke, have defended the organization's decision to readmit Russian youth teams into European football competitions.
"This is absolutely no softening of our rejection of Russia," insisted Watzke, vice-president of the German Football Association (DFB) and chief executive of Borussia Dortmund. "This is about children who have nothing to do with this despicable war and have not yet developed political will."
Former Bayern Munich CEO and current supervisory board member Rummenigge also told tabloid BILD that "children are the victims of war. They are innocent, they carry no responsibility for this war and should not be additionally punished."
How long were Russia banned?
Russian teams have been banned from taking part in UEFA competitions since the country's invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, while the Russian city of Saint Petersburg was also stripped of hosting rights for the 2022 Champions League Final.
But at its meeting in Limassol, Cyprus, on September 26, 2023, the UEFA Executive Committee decided to limit that ban to adult teams and allow youth teams, both boys' and girls,' up to under-17 level to compete again ― albeit under a neutral flag, and not on Russian territory.
What does UEFA say?
In a statement, UEFA reiterated its "condemnation of Russia's illegal war," with president Aleksander Ceferin insisting that "this position will continue until the war is over and peace restored."
He added, however, that: "By banning children from our competitions, we not only fail to recognize and uphold a fundamental right for their holistic development; we directly discriminate against them. By providing opportunities to play and compete with their peers from all over Europe, we are investing in what we hope will be a brighter and more capable future generation and a better tomorrow."
How has Ukraine reacted?
The Ukrainian Football Association (UAF) condemned the decision and reaffirmed its stance that it will not take part in any competitions that involve Russian teams, saying in a statement:
"We are convinced that the adoption of similar decisions regarding the gradual return of teams from the Russian Federation to participation in competitions in the midst of hostilities conducted by the Russian Federation against Ukraine is groundless and such that it tolerates Russia's aggressive policy."
The UAF also called on fellow UEFA members to boycott potential matches against Russian teams, already receiving such commitments from the English, Polish, Latvian, Lithuanian, Swedish, Norwegian and Finnish football associations.
An official statement from the German Football Association is expected later on Friday afternoon following the body's extraordinary general meeting.
Edited by Matt Pearson