UEFA bars Crimean soccer clubs from playing in Russian competitions



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NYON, Switzerland — UEFA has barred football clubs in the disputed Crimea region from playing in competitions organized by the Russian Football Union.

The prohibition starting on Jan. 1 was imposed at a meeting of UEFA's executive committee on Thursday.

"A disciplinary case can be opened for non-respect of the decision," UEFA general secretary Gianni Infantino.

Three Crimean clubs — SKChF Sevastopol, Tavria Simferopol and Zhemchuzhina Yalta — have played this season in the Russian third-tier league, which is currently in a midwinter break.

Russia's annexation of the Crimea region in March is not recognized by the United Nations.

Still, the RFU registered the clubs in its league and national cup competition, angering its Ukrainian counterpart, and in breach of football rules.

UEFA and FIFA statutes prohibit clubs switching federations without consent.

Earlier Thursday, Russia state President Vladimir Putin described Crimea as his country's "spiritual ground" in an annual state-of-the-nation address.

Former FIFA vice president Vyacheslav Koloskov told the Tass agency that "many things in this ruling are not yet clear."

"FIFA will provide a clarification of to what extent this ruling is fair in the legal sense," Koloskov said.

The president of SKChF Sevastopol, Alexander Krasilnikov, criticized the decision as "against football."

"This UEFA ruling is most of all directed against football and the fans," Krasilnikov was quoted as telling the R-Sport agency, adding that UEFA was "mixing football with politics."

Infantino insisted the decision, following weeks of talks involving its Russian and Ukrainian member federations, was made to allow some football to be played while upholding the rules.

"It is not up to UEFA to determine any political situation," Infantino said at a news conference.

UEFA is giving Crimea "special zone" status for football purposes and pledged to fund development projects there.

"What is a special zone? Why is there no zone like this in Abkhazia?" Koloskov was quoted telling Tass, citing the breakaway region of Georgia.

A vice president of the RFU, Nikita Simonyan, told R-Sport that UEFA came under pressure from one of its vice presidents, Hrihoriy Surkis of Ukraine.

UEFA said Surkis was excluded from the board's meeting room when the issue was discussed.

Two Russian officials — Vitaly Mutko, the sports minister and FIFA executive committee member, and UEFA board member Sergey Fursenko — did not attend the meeting on Thursday at UEFA headquarters.


AP writer James Ellingworth in Moscow contributed to this report

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