Poland announce boycott of Russia qualifier in response to invasion of Ukraine

Poland have refused to play against Russia in their upcoming World Cup qualifier.

The country’s football association and leading players have announced a joint stand to boycott the play-off match set for Moscow on March 24.

The decision comes in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny has also spoken out against Russia
Goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny has also spoken out against Russia (Rafal Oleksiewicz/PA)

Polish FA president Cezary Kulesza said on Twitter on Saturday it was “time to act”.

A number of players backed the stance with striker Robert Lewandowski saying “we can’t pretend that nothing is happening”.

The match is a semi-final on Path B of the European qualifying play-offs for this year’s World Cup in Qatar. The winners were due to face Sweden or the Czech Republic for a place in the tournament.

The PA news agency has contacted world governing body FIFA for comment.

Retweeting an earlier post from Kulesza, Poland’s record goalscorer Lewandowski wrote: “It is the right decision! I can’t imagine playing a match with the Russian National Team in a situation when armed aggression in Ukraine continues.

“Russian footballers and fans are not responsible for this, but we can’t pretend that nothing is happening.”

It comes after the football federations of Poland, Sweden and the Czech Republic issued a joint statement earlier this week to say they did not intend to play in Russia.

They called on FIFA and its European counterpart UEFA to offer “alternative solutions” but Poland have now decided to go further and boycott altogether.

Kulesza tweeted: “No more words, time to act! Due to the escalation of the aggression of the Russian Federation towards Ukraine, the Polish national team does not intend to play the play-off match against Russia.

“This is the only right decision. We are in talks with the federations of Sweden and the Czech Republic to bring forward a common position to FIFA.”

Poland goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny wrote on Instagram: “My wife was born in Ukraine, there is Ukrainian blood running through the veins of my son, part of our family is still in Ukraine, a lot of my workers are Ukrainian and they’re all great people.

“Seeing the suffering on their faces and fear for their country makes me realise I can’t stand still and pretend that nothing has happened.

“The moment Putin decided to invade Ukraine he declared war not only on Ukraine but also on all the values Europe stands for. Liberty, Independence but most of all Peace.

“On 26th of March we were supposed to play against Russia in a play-off match for 2022 World Cup in Qatar. And although my heart breaks while writing this, my conscience will not let me play.

“Representing your country is the biggest honour in a footballer’s career but it’s still a choice. I refuse to play against players who choose to represent the values and principles of Russia!

“I refuse to stand on the pitch, wearing the colours of my country and listen to the national anthem of Russia! I refuse to take part in a sporting event that legitimises the actions of the Russian government.

“I know my impact may only be symbolic but I call on FIFA and UEFA to take action and hold Russian federation accountable for their actions.”

Matty Cash, the Aston Villa and Poland full-back, shared a statement on behalf of other players which also revealed that defender Tomasz Kedziora, who plays his club football with Dynamo Kiev, remains in Ukraine.

It read: “We, the players of the Polish national team, together with the Polish Football Association, decided that as a result of Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, we do not intend to play in the play-off match against Russia.

“It is not an easy decision, but there are more important things in life than football. Our thoughts are with the Ukrainian nation and our friend from the national team, Tomasz Kedziora, who is still in Kiev with his family.”

FIFA last issued a statement on the matter on Thursday when it said it will “continue to monitor the situation” and issue updates concerning the qualifiers “in due course”.

The statement added: “FIFA condemns the use of force by Russia in Ukraine and any type of violence to resolve conflicts.

“Violence is never a solution and FIFA calls on all parties to restore peace through constructive dialogue. FIFA also continues to express its solidarity to the people affected by this conflict.”

Since then Russia has started to be hit with sanctions from elsewhere, with UEFA stripping the country of this season’s Champions League final. The showpiece club match, due to be played in St Petersburg on May 28, will now be held in Paris.

In Formula One, the Russian Grand Prix scheduled for September has been cancelled and the International Olympic Committee has urged sporting federations with other events planned for Russia or Belarus to do likewise.

Manchester United have also terminated a sponsorship agreement with Russian airline Aeroflot.