Alexander Ceferin
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UEFA President Aleksander Ceferin speaks at the UEFA Congress in Vienna. © Hans Punz/APA/dpa

The war in Ukraine remains the most difficult topic for football. The delegates at the UEFA Congress in Vienna are shown the consequences of the conflict.

Vienna – Andrej Pawelko was standing in front of a bomb crater. The President of the Ukraine FA wore a protective vest when he spoke in shaky live video from a destroyed stadium in Chernihiv on Wednesday.

“The Ukrainian football community saves lives, saves children’s lives,” the 46-year-old conveyed to delegates at the UEFA Congress in Vienna. It was quiet in the conference hall of the exhibition center in Austria’s capital. Dealing with the Russian war of aggression in Ukraine remains a tightrope walk for football.

The European umbrella organization had excluded Russian clubs from all competitions and also moved the Champions League final from St. Petersburg to Paris – but the Russian association will remain part of UEFA for the time being. Alexander Alayev, the young General Secretary of the RFU, was in Vienna. He didn’t want to comment.

No statements on further sanctions

Ceferin avoided making any clear statements about further sanctions against the RFU, saying it was “premature” to talk about it. “I wouldn’t rule out anything, but I wouldn’t say it will happen in the future either,” said the Slovenian at noon during the press conference. “We hope that this madness will end as soon as possible.” Ceferin defended himself against a general suspicion that the officials were automatically close to Russia’s President Vladimir Putin.

“Football is undoubtedly the loser. One of the losers, as we take away the passion and dreams of players, coaches and fans who have nothing to do with the current situation,” said the UEFA President during his Congress speech, citing other points where football always won. “But when UEFA imposes unprecedented sanctions, football tries to do its tiny bit for Europe’s society and politicians who work for peace.”

Then Pavelko reported live. Despite sound problems, the 46-year-old was able to deliver his message from the seemingly bizarre scenery under a bright blue sky in the bombed-out stadium. “Behind me you can see the stadium that was hit. You see that the playing field has been completely destroyed. We were bombed, even today in the region, bombs fell here,” said the head of the association in the northern Ukrainian region.

Ukraine in World Cup playoffs

He does not have the “moral right” to leave Ukraine and travel to the UEFA Congress in Vienna, Pavelko said, according to the governing body’s translation. “But I am sure that we will discuss important things together at the next congress.”

The appearance of the Ukrainian national team was planned for Wednesday evening in Mönchengladbach. It is the first game of the country selection since the invasion of Russia. “On the one hand, we can help the Ukrainian Football Association to prepare for their upcoming international matches and, on the other hand, we can offer a platform to express how despicable what is happening in Ukraine is,” said Gladbach’s managing director Stephan Schippers, referring to the game.

Ukraine are scheduled to play the semi-finals of the World Cup playoffs in Scotland on June 1. If the team wins, they play Wales four days later for a place at the World Cup in Qatar. dpa

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