March 5. 2024. 9:20

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EU lawmakers ask UEFA to exclude Belarus from Euros qualifiers

European lawmakers called on Europe’s football governing body UEFA to ban the Belarusian national football team from the Euros qualifiers, in a letter seen by EURACTIV.

The letter, addressed to UEFA President Aleksander Čeferin, was initiated by the Polish Christian-democrat MEP Tomasz Frankowski, a member of the European Parliament’s culture committee (CULT) and also a former professional football player.

“We believe it is important that UEFA reconsiders its current position on Belarusian football federation,” reads the letter signed by 104 MEPs from all parliamentary groups.

On 28 February, UEFA decided to suspend all Russian representative teams and clubs from participating in their competition matches until further notice in the aftermath of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Now MEPs are calling Europe’s football governing body to do the same at least with the Belarusian national team engaged in the UEFA European Championship qualifiers in a group with Andorra, Israel, Kosovo, Romania, and Switzerland.

The letter was sent on the same day of a resolution voted by the European Parliament plenary on Wednesday (15 March) in which MEPs condemned the Belarusian regime’s continued systematic repression of citizens and dissenting voices

“As a former football player, I should say that a request to exclude a national team from a sports competition is always a difficult one,” MEP Frankowski told EURACTIV.

“However, given the actual situation in Belarus, the war in Ukraine, and the actions of the Lukashenko regime sentencing innocent citizens to years in prison such action from the European Parliament is, unfortunately, necessary,” he continued.

The letters refer in particular to cases of long prison sentences and closed-door show trials such as the ones against journalist Andrzej Poczobut, Nobel peace prize laureate Ales Bialatski, and the exiled Belarusian opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya.

But it also mentions the case of Oleg Formin, a 48-year-old football coach who spent 2.5 years in Belarusian prison on trumped-up charges.

“How can all these facts be aligned with UEFA values and the UEFA matches which should be emblematic of the peace and cooperation that are embodied in the football family?” the letter reads.

According to the signatories of the letter, much of Belarusian society is now living in fear, intimidated and terrorised by the fact that not aligning with the Lukashenka regime could result in the loss of their careers or freedom.

“This includes Belarusian athletes and sportsmen. It is therefore clear for us that the footballers who are still on the Belarusian football team are supporting the Lukashenka regime,” the letter continues.

Ultimately, the very fact that the Belarusian national team is participating in the Euros qualifiers can be used by Lukashenko and his propaganda team to prove the regime is still well-received in the international community, the signatories argue.

“These are not only UEFA values at stake but also UEFA’s reputation and image within
democratic societies and the international community,” the letter concludes.

Belarus football team is currently in the 97th place in the FIFA ranking of national football teams but has not yet qualified for the final stage of the FIFA world cup or UEFA European Championship.