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EU lawmakers demand UEFA bans Belarus from football tournament

EU lawmakers demand UEFA bans Belarus from football tournament

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European Parliament lawmakers want Belarus excluded from football’s Euro 2024 qualifying competition.

More than 100 MEPs, from all the major groups, called on European football’s governing body UEFA to expel the Belarusian national team from the Euro 2024 qualifiers over human rights abuses committed by President Alexander Lukashenko’s regime, according to a letter seen by POLITICO.

“The very fact of participating in UEFA Championship by the Belarusian national team will be later used by Lukashenko and his propaganda team to prove he is well-received in the international community,” read the letter, sent Wednesday to UEFA President Aleksander Čeferin.

“This would be an offense to the victims of the Russian aggression in Ukraine and to all the Belarusians who were forced to flee from their homeland as well as those who stayed in Belarus and now must live in fear and terror,” the letter added.

The regime of Lukashenko, who has been president of Belarus without interruption since 1994, is under EU sanctions over human rights abuses, its violent repression against opposition members and for helping Russia launch its full-scale attack on Ukraine.

Since the beginning of the month, several opposition figures — including human rights advocate and Nobel Prize winner Ales Bialiatski and the opposition leader in exile, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya — were given decades-long prison sentences for “high treason” and financing opposition protests.

Lukashenko, a close ally to Russian President Vladimir Putin, was also instrumental in Moscow’s attack on Ukraine last February, when some Russian troops entered Ukraine from Belarus.

Belarus has been sanctioned by UEFA for its role in the war on Ukraine: The country is no longer allowed to host international games and Belarusian clubs cannot play against Ukrainian teams in European competitions.

But, unlike Russian teams, which have been expelled from all UEFA competitions, the Belarusian clubs and national team are still allowed to compete in international competitions.

The Belarusian national team is set to compete against Switzerland, Israel, Romania, Kosovo and Andorra in the Euro 2024 qualifiers. Its first match takes place against Switzerland on March 25, and will be played in Serbia. The final tournament next summer will then take place in Germany.

The letter signed by MEPs said the current measures were “inadequate” and “fail[ed] to reflect what the Belarusian authorities are doing in relation to human rights.” 

Polish MEP Tomasz Frankowski, from the EPP group, who co-authored the letter and is himself a former professional football player, said moving to prevent a national team from competing was “always difficult.”

“However, given the actual situation in Belarus, war in Ukraine and the actions of the Lukashenko regime sentencing innocent citizens to years in prison, such a call from the European Parliament was unfortunately necessary,” Frankowski said.

Speaking to POLITICO in Brussels last October, opposition leader Tsikhanouskaya also called to kick out the Belarusian national football team from all international competitions, and criticized current national team players for showing “loyalty” to the regime.

UEFA did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Ali Walker contributed reporting.

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