Russia invited to participate in Central Asian soccer event
Russia has been invited to participate in the inaugural Central Asian Football Association Championships in June along with seven other national teams.
Russian teams have been barred from European and FIFA competitions since the invasion of Ukraine in February of last year. But the Tajikistan Football Association announced Monday that a Russian team could join the new regional tournament along with former Soviet republics Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Kyrgyzstan.
Afghanistan, Iran and another country, yet to be confirmed, will complete the lineup for the games expected to be hosted in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan and Tashkent, Uzbekistan.
The Central Asian Football Association was formed in 2014 as one of five regions within the Asian soccer confederation and has headquarters in Tajikistan. It held the CAFA women's championship and junior age championships last year.
According to the Tajikistan Football Association, Russia has already accepted the invitation for the men's event in June. But the Russian Football Union told state media: "We are currently in discussions about the possibility and conditions of the Russian national team's participation in this tournament."
The move will rekindle debate about a possible Russian entry into the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) as the country seeks to return to international soccer competition.
In January, Russian Football Union president Alexander Dyukov drew back from a December threat to join the AFC after meeting with European football officials.
No resolution has yet been found. Dyukov last month attended the AFC Congress in Bahrain, holding talks with AFC president Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa.
"We have a good relationship with the Russian federation and with the rest of the European federations, and we are always in contact with the federations on all occasions," Salman said after the meeting. "We want the best interests of the game as we seek to keep politics away from football."
Russia's national men's team played just three international friendlies in 2022, against Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. The team is scheduled to meet Iran and Iraq later this month.
Most Olympic sports have excluded athletes from Russia and its ally Belarus since shortly after Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine. The IOC initially recommended excluding them on safety grounds but now says keeping the restrictions would be discriminatory.
Last month 35 countries signed a statement criticizing the IOC plans to allow Russians and Belarusians to return to competition ahead of qualifying events for the 2024 Paris Olympics as neutral athletes without national symbols.