Fans of Ukraine hold smartphones with torches switched on during...

Fans of Ukraine hold smartphones with torches switched on during the Euro 2024 group C qualifying soccer match between Ukraine and England in Wroclaw, Poland, Saturday, Sept. 9, 2023. Credit: AP/Czarek Sokolowski

GENEVA — The Ukraine soccer federation said it will boycott any European youth competition that includes Russia and urged other countries to refuse to play against Russian teams as UEFA works on easing a blanket ban imposed since the war started.

The call was answered Wednesday by Sweden's soccer federation which will host the girls' under-17 Euro finals tournament in May and said it would not let Russia take part if it qualified.

That aligns with the stance of Swedish national sports bodies since Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. The Swedish Sports Confederation is chaired by Karl-Erik Nilsson, who is also UEFA's senior vice president.

Ukraine soccer officials also urged other UEFA member countries late Tuesday to refuse to play Russia, a stance that England reiterated

UEFA announced its new policy of trying to reintegrate Russian U17 teams on Tuesday and within hours the English Football Association said it would not fall in line with the European soccer body's move.

A growing divide in European soccer is a pressing issue because qualifying groups are played in October and November for the U17 European Championship for boys and girls, which both have finals tournaments next year. The boys' tournament is in Cyprus.

“UAF confirms that we will not take part in any competitions with the participation of Russian teams," the Ukraine federation said, “and appeal to other UEFA member associations to boycott possible matches with the participation of teams from the Russian Federation.”

“We strongly urge UEFA to review this decision and leave in force the previous decision on the complete exclusion of any teams from the Russian Federation from participation in international competitions.”

Latvia also pledged Wednesday to refuse to play Russia, with other British, Baltic and Scandinavian countries likely to follow.

The Kyiv-based Ukraine federation said letting teams return during the conflict “tolerates Russia’s aggressive policy.”

Ukraine soccer leader Andriy Pavelko is a member of the policy-setting UEFA executive committee and so is Alexander Dyukov, his Russian counterpart. Dyukov did attend the committee meeting Tuesday in Cyprus that shaped the new policy and Pavelko did not, UEFA said.

UEFA and FIFA moved within days of the military invasion of Ukraine starting to remove and ban all Russian national and club teams.

Even before those decisions were made, Poland and its men’s team captain Robert Lewandowski said they would not play Russia in a 2022 World Cup qualifying playoff scheduled in Moscow a month later. Switzerland’s soccer federation also said its women’s team would not play Russia at the Euro 2022 tournament hosted by England.

Now 19 months into a war that shows no sign of ending, UEFA signaled Tuesday that it wants to restore Russian teams into its youth competitions, though without their flag, anthem, national colors and playing in only away games.

UEFA said “children should not be punished for actions whose responsibility lies exclusively with adults,” and its staff will look at finding groups that Russian U17 teams can play in.

Ukraine’s U17 girls teams is scheduled to play three games in Germany from Oct. 14-20 in a group that also includes Austria and Romania.

The U17 boys are due in Liechtenstein to play games from Oct. 15-21 against the host, Germany and Finland.

Russian youth players plus their coaches and officials would face issues getting visas and flights to travel for UEFA games. Serbia is a traditional ally of Russia that will host qualifying groups for U17 boys and girls in the weeks ahead.

The English Football Association defied UEFA’s new policy despite having vice presidents of UEFA and FIFA, David Gill and Debbie Hewitt, respectively, and likely being confirmed in two weeks’ time by UEFA as the men's Euro 2028 co-host with its British and Irish neighbors.

“We do not support the position of readmitting Russia to UEFA age grade competitions,” the English FA said, “and our position remains that England teams won’t play against Russia.”

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