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Boris Johnson slams FIFA chief Gianni Infantino over stance on Russia

by host

U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson blasted world football’s governing body FIFA over its stance on Russia as he snubbed last week’s 2022 World Cup draw.

Johnson’s office sent a letter to FIFA President Gianni Infantino, underlining Britain’s “disappointment” to see Russian delegates at FIFA’s Congress last week in Doha, Qatar, according to the text of the correspondence, seen by POLITICO.

And he warned that sport cannot be used “as a platform to legitimise Russian aggression.”

In the letter, dated March 31, Johnson said it was with “regret” he was unable to attend last Friday’s World Cup draw in Doha and wished the tournament “every success” — before laying into the FIFA boss.

Johnson criticized Infantino for inviting Russian delegates to the Congress, amid a swingeing Western sanctions drive against Russia, and branded the Russian Football Union “effectively a representative body” for the Kremlin. 

“We would therefore urge you in the strongest possible terms to rethink your position on this matter, so that representatives of both the Russian Football Union, and also the Football Federation of Belarus, are unable to engage in future FIFA meetings and business,” the letter said.

“There is a clear need for football to continue to present a united front in the light of Russia’s abhorrent actions in Ukraine,” Johnson added. “Sport cannot be used as a platform to legitimise Russian aggression.”

“As you will be aware,” Johnson told Infantino, “the UK, along with 36 other countries from across the globe, affirmed our position recently that such sports administrators representing Russian and Belarusian teams should not be invited to participate in international sport, or the activities of sports bodies and federations.”

Johnson pointed to the International Paralympic Committee’s exclusion of Russian and Belarusian athletes from the recent Paralympics as a “powerful” demonstration of “international solidarity.”

Johnson’s office and FIFA did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

FIFA suspended Russia indefinitely from international tournaments at the end of February, in the days after Moscow launched its lethal assault on Ukraine. The move effectively banned Russia from the 2022 World Cup, set to take place in Qatar from November to December. On Tuesday, the Court of Arbitration for Sport said Russia had withdrawn its appeal against the ban.

Infantino received an Order of Friendship medal from Russian President Vladimir Putin in 2019, the year after Russia hosted the last men’s World Cup. 

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