GENEVA – Russia’s ban from international football ahead of the World Cup playoffs is headed for another urgent case at the Court of Arbitration for Sport. And Russian sport has had some success in court.
The Football Union of Russia is ready and waiting on Friday to file a formal complaint against the joint decision by FIFA and UEFA to ban its national and club teams from international competitions.
It leads to an intriguing legal battle with time running out on the clock.
In 20 days, the Russian men’s national team will play Poland in a qualifying playoff semi-final. Five days later, the playoff finals will be played, which will determine places at the World Cup in Qatar.
Still, this schedule gives CAS more time than last month to assess the case of 15-year-old figure skater Kamila Valieva at the Beijing Olympics.
Russian sport won this blockbuster at the Winter Games. How could the next one go on?
The Valieva ruling was ultimately an interim ruling on the fairness of banning or allowing an athlete to compete in a career-defining competition that only occurs once every four years. This doping prosecution will be dealt with later.
The Russian football appeal could also obtain an injunction. Three judges will consider whether maintaining a ban would do “irreparable harm” to players who want a shot at promotion to the World Cup.
Football was the first to act on Monday after the International Olympic Committee urged sports federations to isolate Russia over the invasion of Ukraine.
FIFA and UEFA executives entered emergency meetings and soon suspended Russian teams. They said: “Football is fully united here and in full solidarity with all affected people in Ukraine.”
Both did not publish their legal reasons.
The Football Union of Russia and its president, Gazprom manager Alexander Dyukov, remained on UEFA’s executive body, but teams were affected. Spartak Moscow were removed from the Europa League ahead of the round of 16 games on March 10th and 17th.
Since 2016, the FIFA Statutes have contained a Human Rights Policy, which states that the world governing body of sport is “committed to respecting all internationally recognized human rights and endeavors to promote the protection of these rights”.
The FIFA case was later strengthened by a prosecutor from the International Criminal Court, who is now investigating allegations of war crimes in Ukraine.
But it could also be problematic for sports associations that ban political statements and when human rights violations occur in other FIFA member countries.
“This takes us in a direction that is quite difficult for FIFA and UEFA to handle and that is far from the history of political neutrality,” said Antoine Duval, a sports law expert at the Asser Institute in The Hague.
FIFA and UEFA also have tournament rules that allow actions.
The World Cup regulations allow FIFA to “intervene at its own discretion and take all necessary measures” in the event of uncontrollable events, which may include war.
A notable element is the public refusal by several UEFA member associations to play matches against a Russian team. These include Poland, Sweden and the Czech Republic, who are in Russia’s World Cup playoff group.
Poland captain Robert Lewandowski, FIFA Player of the Year, said: “We can’t pretend nothing is happening.”
Sweden’s football leader Karl-Erik Nilsson, UEFA vice-president, said the “illegal and deeply unjust invasion of Ukraine is currently making all football matches with Russia impossible”.
They have taken a stance on moral rather than security grounds, posing a dilemma for FIFA. Disciplining three members for refusing to play could give Russia a pass to the World Cup.
This is part of the Russian legal argument. On Thursday, the Football Union of Russia noted that the FIFA-UEFA decision “was made under pressure from direct competitors in the playoffs, which violates the principle of sport and the rules of fair play.”
Russia wants the case to be decided in an expedited trial later this month. It seems unlikely that this will get the approval of FIFA and UEFA.
The next option is to obtain an interim decision to freeze all sanctions until the entire case can be heard, which could take weeks or months.
That would leave Russia, like Valieva in Beijing, competing with an asterisk on the score pending a future court ruling.
There is precedent for short term victory in an eventual losing case.
Just ahead of the 2018 World Cup in Russia, lawyers for Peru captain Paolo Guerrero persuaded a Swiss Supreme Court judge to freeze his ban in a doping case that went through FIFA and CAS.
The judge ruled that it was unfair to prevent 34-year-old Guerrero from playing in his first World Cup – the “crowning glory of his career”.