With tensions between Russia and Ukraine at a fever pitch, UEFA has taken action in an attempt to prevent political issues from manifesting themselves in the sport of soccer.
According to Rob Harris of The Associated Press, UEFA has decided to block Russian and Ukrainian teams from being drawn into groups together in Champions League and Europa League competitions:
UEFA released a statement, via its official website, regarding the situation and declined to place an exact timetable on the duration of the ruling.
After evaluating the request and taking into account the safety and security situation in the region, the UEFA Emergency Panel has decided that Ukrainian and Russian teams cannot be drawn against each other until further notice. Consequently, FC Zenit and Dnipro will be prevented from being pitted together when the UEFA Champions League third qualifying round draw is made on 18 July.
As much as UEFA usually tries to separate soccer from politics, Harris accurately pointed out that they are very much intertwined in this particular situation:
While some might argue that this decision adversely impacts fair play and tampers with the purity of Champions League and Europa League draws, it is difficult to argue against UEFA's ruling in this case.
Keeping everything on a level playing field is important, but the safety of fans, players and coaches takes precedence. Allowing Russian and Ukrainian clubs to face each other very well could have put that safety in jeopardy.
It is also wise on UEFA's part to make the ruling indefinite. There is no telling when or if the problems between Russia and Ukraine will be resolved, so the only thing UEFA can do is continue to monitor the landscape and make judgments on a day-to-day basis.
European soccer fans are passionate even without outside factors being thrown into the mix. Political unrest takes that passion to another level, and it needs to be circumvented at all costs.
UEFA may not be universally praised for this ruling, but it recognized the potential pitfalls and was decisive in avoiding them.
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