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Ukraine crisis: Poland to boycott World Cup play-off against Russia

Poland will boycott their World Cup play-off against Russia because of the invasion of Ukraine, with captain Robert Lewandowski saying “we can’t pretend that nothing is happening”.

Polish football association president Cezary Kulesza has said the team “does not intend” to play the game.

Russia are due to host Poland in Moscow on 24 March, while Ukraine travel to Scotland on the same day.

“The right decision,” tweeted Lewandowski.

On Thursday, Fifa said it would monitor the situation after Poland, Sweden and the Czech Republic said in a joint statement that play-off matches should not be played in Russia.

“No more words, time to act,” tweeted Kulesza on Saturday.

The winner of the play-off tie between Sweden and the Czech Republic could meet Russia for a place at the World Cup finals, which get under way in Qatar in November.

Sweden have joined Poland in saying they will not play against Russia regardless of where the match is played because of the “illegal and deeply unjust invasion of Ukraine”.

The country’s football association also urged Fifa to cancel the play-off matches involving Russia.

The Scottish FA is in talks with Uefa over the home World Cup play-off semi-final against Ukraine and the planned women’s World Cup qualifier in Kyiv in April.

Meanwhile, former world heavyweight boxer Wladimir Klitschko, whose older brother Vitali is now mayor of Kyiv, urged people across the world to help Ukraine to “stop Russian aggression”.

“I’m addressing the entire world to stop this war which Russia has started. There is no time to wait because it is going to bleed into a humanitarian catastrophe,” he said.

“You need to act now. An hour or by tomorrow will be too late. Please get into action now, don’t wait. Stop this war.”

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How else has sport responded to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine?
Many sports governing bodies, clubs and players have reacted to the Russian invasion of Ukraine by cancelling or postponing events due to be held in the region.

  • The 2022 Champions League final will be played in Paris after Uefa – European football’s governing body – moved the match away from St Petersburg
  • Uefa also ordered Russian and Ukrainian clubs and national teams to play their home matches away from the region “until further notice”
  • Uefa is looking to end its major £30m-a-year sponsorship deal with Russian state-run gas giant Gazprom
    Russia’s Formula 1 Grand Prix, due to take place in Sochi in September, has been cancelled
  • International sports federations were urged to move or cancel events currently planned in Russia or Belarus by the International Olympic Committee
  • The International Basketball Federation (FIBA) has postponed World Cup 2023 qualifiers involving Netherlands v Russia on 27 February and Great Britain v Belarus on 28 February
  • Manchester United have terminated their sponsorship deal with Russia’s national airline Aeroflot

On Thursday, football clubs, players and fans showed their support for Ukraine with anti-war T-shirts and banners

‘My conscience won’t let me play’ – what else did the Poland players say?
Bayern Munich striker Lewandowski, 33, who is his country’s all-time highest goalscorer, said: “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.”

Polish FA president Kulesza added: “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 Sweden and Czech Republic to present a common position to Fifa.”

Poland goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny, who plays for Italian champions Juventus, said his “conscience” would not let him play.

“I refuse to stand on the pitch, wearing the colours of my country and listen to the national anthem of Russia,” wrote the 31-year-old former Arsenal player, whose wife was born in Ukraine.

“I refuse to take part in a sporting event that legitimises the actions of the Russian government.”

Other members of the Poland squad, including Leeds United midfielder Mateusz Klich, Southampton defender Jan Bednarek and Aston Villa defender Matty Cash posted messages on social media which outlined their position.

“It is not an easy decision but there are more important things than football,” read the collective statement.

The Poland players also highlighted the case of team-mate Tomasz Kedziora, who plays for Ukrainian club Dynamo Kyiv and is still in the Ukrainian capital.

BBC Sport has learned that the UK government plans to conduct meetings with UK sports bodies early next week to explore what else could be done to intensify Russia’s sporting isolation.

Ministers have already welcomed Uefa’s decision to strip St Petersburg of the Champions League final.

Now they are likely to ask the FA to hold talks with other countries’ football associations to see if more can be done to put pressure on Fifa to expel Russia from World Cup qualifying.

Meanwhile, the International Paralympic Committee will hold an executive board meeting on Wednesday when the crisis will be discussed.

At this stage it is understood IPC bosses believe their rules do not allow for Russia to be excluded, and that any such move would be successfully challenged by Russia in court. But further talks are set to take place at the meeting next week. BBC News