Putin backs visit of Balkan nation for football match
Russian President Vladimir Putin has said sport should “unite people and not divide them,” as the leader supported plans for a football match between his country and Bosnia and Herzegovina, which is set for St. Petersburg in November.
Speaking as he welcomed Bosnian Serb political leader Milorad Dodik to the Kremlin on Tuesday, Putin expressed his belief that the match should go ahead despite pressure from the likes of the Ukrainian authorities for it to be canceled.
“Sport should unite, not divide people, and I hope that the sporting event that you mentioned will play its role in promoting sports and relations between people,” Putin told Dodik, who is a member of the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
“I want to emphasize once again that we know you as a friend of our country. I am glad to see you and to have the opportunity to discuss with you the situation in the region and bilateral relations,” Putin added.
Russian football teams remained banned from international competitions at all levels following sanctions imposed by governing bodies FIFA and UEFA at the end of February.
Russian teams can play friendly internationals, however, with matches lined up for the men’s national team against Kyrgyzstan, Iran, and Bosnia and Herzegovina across the next three months.
The first two meetings – starting with a game in Bishkek on Saturday – are due to be played outside Russia, although the match against Bosnia and Herzegovina has been planned for November 19 at the 67,000-seater Gazprom Arena in St. Petersburg.
Upon announcing an agreement “in principle” for the game, the Bosnian football authorities came under fire from members of their own team such as prominent stars Miralem Pjanic and Edin Dzeko.
The Ukrainian Association of Football (UAF) also revealed it had written to FIFA and UEFA in a bid to prevent the match from going ahead.
UEFA has since stated that the occasion does not fall under its auspices.
Amid the pushback, the Football Association of Bosnia and Herzegovina later said that officials would revisit plans for the match at a meeting in October.
Elsewhere, Russian football was hit with a fresh punishment this week when UEFA confirmed that the men’s team would not be included in the qualification draw for Euro 2024 in Germany, effectively ruling Russia out of the tournament.