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FIFA set to approve letting Russian youth soccer national teams return to competition

GENEVA (AP) — FIFA is set to approve the reintegration of Russian youth teams into under-17 competitions and ease a total international ban on the country amid the war in Ukraine.

The FIFA Council, which is chaired by president Gianni Infantino, will hold an online meeting Wednesday afternoon and the Russian issue will be discussed, people involved in the meeting told The Associated Press.

They spoke on condition of anonymity because FIFA has not published any details about the meeting.

No news conference is scheduled to explain any decisions. Setting bid rules for potential hosts of the men’s World Cup in 2030 and also potentially the 2034 edition should also be discussed. Saudi Arabia has been targeting the 2034 tournament.

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FIFA’s 37-member ruling body, including nine from UEFA, will be meeting eight days after the European soccer body provoked a rare split among its own executive committee and member federations by welcoming back Russian national teams for boys and girls into its competitions.

Qualifying groups for the next European Under-17 Championship start this month.

FIFA and UEFA moved within days of Russia invading Ukraine in February 2022 to ban the country’s national and club teams from international soccer competitions. Future opponents of Russian national teams, including Poland, Sweden and Switzerland, had already refused to play those games.

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The ban was upheld at the Court of Arbitration for Sport, which accepted the argument that FIFA and UEFA had a duty to organize competitions with security and integrity free from chaos.

With the war showing no signs of ending, UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin has signaled wanting to restore Russian teams into youth competitions. They would play without their flag, anthem, national colors and only in 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. The UEFA executive committee will meet again on Tuesday and is expected to get an update on the process of reintegration.

Russian teams can only access the FIFA-run Under-17 World Cups by advancing through the UEFA-run qualifying format.

The UEFA position — and the expected fresh FIFA stance Wednesday — is against International Olympic Committee advice that governing bodies should continue blocking Russia from team sports while looking to let approved individuals compete with neutral status.

Neutrality criteria include not publicly supporting the war and not being contracted to the military or security agencies.

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AP soccer: https://apnews.com/hub/soccer