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26 Feb, 2022 13:56

Polish President issues message on football boycott of Russia

Andrzej Duda called Russia 'bandits', while star striker Robert Lewandowski and the head of the Polish Football Association have also spoken out on boycotting a crucial World Cup qualifier
Polish President issues message on football boycott of Russia

Poland's potential boycott of a crunch Qatar World Cup qualifier in Russia in March has been backed by the country's president, Andrzej Duda, and the country's best-known footballer, FIFA Best Men's Player Robert Lewandowski.

Poland are scheduled to take on Russia in a one-legged play-off semi-final in Moscow on March 24, although the venue for the game is uncertain after UEFA ordered all Russian teams to play at neutral venues for the foreseeable future as part of an announcement that moved this season's Champions League final from St. Petersburg to Paris.

The decisions were made after Russia invaded Ukraine, and Polish Football Association head Czarek Kulesza has now insisted that his country's game and Valeri Karpin's side will not go ahead.

"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 [between the] republic of Poland and Russia," Kulesza said.

"This is the only right decision. We are in talks with the Swedish and Czech federations to present a common position to FIFA," Kulesza finished.

The winner of the match would face the victor of a concurrent semifinal between Sweden and the Czech Republic in Stockholm, with the final originally scheduled to be held in Russia on March 29.

Football chiefs in Poland, Sweden and the Czech Republic had already written a joint letter to FIFA and UEFA asking for games in Russia to be moved "based on the current alarming development in the conflict between Russia and Ukraine".

Poland's flat-out refusal to play Russia anywhere is a dramatic fresh step that could have a huge impact on World Cup qualification.

"And rightly so, Mr. President," wrote Duda in response to a tweet from Kulesza revealing the news. "You don't play with bandits."

Duda joined Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky and their Lithuanian counterpart, Gitanas Nauseda, to sign a joint statement in Kiev on Wednesday condemning Russia.

The signing ceremony at the Mariinsky Palace in Kyiv was held just a day before Russia began a military operation in Ukraine.

Zelensky said on Friday evening that he had spoken to Duda, calling him a "real friend" of Ukraine.

In a reaction that received a mixed response from fans, Poland captain Lewandowski called the announcement about the game "the right decision", adding that he "can’t imagine" playing against Russia while what he described as "armed aggression" took place in Ukraine.

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

FIFA president Gianni Infantino said on Thursday that his governing body would continue to monitor the situation.

"We will update on the World Cup qualifiers soon. We can take decisions immediately, as soon as it’s needed," Infantino added.

Poland failed to qualify for three consecutive tournaments before the 2018 World Cup in Russia and are aiming to reach the finals for the ninth time in their history.

They finished bottom of a group containing Colombia, Japan and current Africa Cup of Nations champions Senegal in 2018.

Poland suffered the same fate in their group at Euro 2020 last summer. Lewandowski's side played two of their three matches in St. Petersburg during the tournament.