Russia Takes Matters into its Own Hands, Organizes Independent International Meetings as FIFA Excludes It


A friendly match pits Russia and Cameroon on Thursday, October 12, a first for a non-Asian country since the start of the war in Ukraine

Russia Takes Matters into its Own Hands, Organizes Independent International Meetings as FIFA Excludes It

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Russian player Alexander Soldatenkov and Qatari Hasan Khalid Al Haydos in a duel during a friendly match between Qatar and Russia in September 2023 (NOUSHAD THEKKAYIL / NURPHOTO)

It’s only a friendly match, but it means a lot. Cameroon faces Russia on Thursday evening at 6 p.m. in Moscow. The Russian selection has been banned from all international competition by the two football authorities, Fifa at the global level, and UEFA for Europe since the start of the war in Ukraine on February 24, 2022. If the sporting issue of this match is drawn, the geopolitical stakes are very real.

Indeed, it is enough to look at the names of the opponents of Sbornaïa, the Russian football team, to have the list of the Kremlin’s allies. Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Iran, Iraq and Qatar are its last opponents on the ground. For Luka Aubin, research director at IRIS, this match is anything but trivial: “We are reaching a new level, it is the first time that Russia will face a team from the African continent.”

“The objective is obviously to show the world that Russia has many non-Western allies.”

Existing in the eyes of the world through football, this is not the first time in history that sport has served as a vector of geopolitical influence. But beyond that, Russia finds a second interest in organizing these matches: to put pressure on its allies to regain its place in the near future. “We know that the 2024 Olympic and Paralympic Games are approaching, that the IOC is hesitant about whether or not to reinstate the Russian and Belarusian athletes. By performing well in sport, it shows that Russia is not isolated and that we will have to count on her on a sporting and political level.”

This strategy was decided by President Putin himself. After Cameroon this Thursday evening, Russia will play Monday against Kenya.

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