In the coming days, the Russian Football Federation (RFU) will have to resolve, it seems, the most pressing issue for it now – the transition from the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) to the Asian Football Confederation (AFC). His idea arose in connection with UEFA sanctions, which for a long time deprived both domestic clubs and the national team of the possibility of participating in international competitions. Meanwhile, the formal change of the region that will represent the RFU, if it takes place, will entail a number of negative consequences, such as the loss of income from participation in club tournaments, as well as a decrease in the level of opponents of the national team.
The Russian Football Federation has published declaration, referring to the postponement of the executive committee vote scheduled for Tuesday on the issue of leaving the Union of European Football Associations and joining the Asian Football Confederation. The RFU has clarified that it is linked to the “need for further consultations”. Voting is expected to take place over the next few days – until 31 December.
This is probably the most relevant topic for the RFU and, in principle, for the whole topic of national football. The idea to change the region, represented by the structure responsible for football in Russia, was born in the autumn. On Friday, members of the executive committee of the RFU actively discussed this, but did not come to an unequivocal conclusion about its expediency. And the fact that four days after the vote on the transition was postponed again, in reality, there is nothing strange, given the complexity of the issue.
It was caused by the sanctions that UEFA, together with the International Football Federation (FIFA), applied to the RFU shortly after the start of the military operation in Ukraine. They deprived both Russian clubs and the national team of the opportunity to play in official tournaments.
As a result, the clubs were left without European cups and the national team was unable to take part in the final selection phase for the World Cup in Qatar in the spring, in the face of public refusal to meet them from the competitors – Poles, Swedes and Czechs , supported by the parent football organizations, and in the fall they held only three friendly matches only with representatives of Asia on their field – in Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. And the already agreed version with a match against much higher ranking Bosnians failed against the background of protests against such a match in Bosnia. At the same time, as RFU president Alexander Dyukov made clear, UEFA “sees no reason to reconsider its decision at the moment”.
However, this can also be judged by the actions of the organization, for example, by its decision to refuse admission of Russia to the draw for the next European Championship. It will take place in 2024, and the Russian team, therefore, will definitely not play in the championship.
According to supporters of the transition under the auspices of the AFC, only it will provide real prospects for “the return of Russian football to official competitions”, and prolonged isolation will entail extremely negative consequences for this.
Listing them, Alexander Dyukov emphasized, shall we say, the risk of changing citizenship by young players, as well as a decrease in “children’s interest in the game of football.”
The Asian Confederation has not yet expressed its position on the possibility of accepting Russia into its ranks. However, Alexander Dyukov has already indicated that, according to his information, she is ready to consider the Russian request. If satisfied, the Russian team will theoretically be able to enter the qualifiers for at least the 2026 World Cup, which will be hosted by the United States, Canada and Mexico. However, in the long run, the transition will do more harm than good to Russian football.
What skeptics don’t like about his idea is easy to guess. Both the national team and the clubs will be affected by the change of confederation.
The national team in this case will have to exist in an environment where the level of competition is much lower than in UEFA. The World Cup in Qatar, which ended on 18 December, was interpreted by some pundits as a success for the AFC. He was represented at the tournament by six teams, and half of them – Japanese, Australian and South Korean – reached the play-offs, and the Saudi, although, like Qatar and the Iranians, did not get to the cup stage, inflicted defeat in the opening match against the Argentines, who finally became the owners of the gold.
But this progress is, at best, very relative. None of the three AFC teams made it past the first round of the play-offs. And their results were quite consistent with the FIFA rating.
Above all among the Asian teams is the Japanese – in 20th place. The third ten of the ranking also includes Iranians, Koreans and Australians. Most of the national teams of the confederation are extremely weak even against the background of European middle farmers.
These conditions can hardly be called ideal for the sporting growth of the national team and for the increase in its demand from the public. At the same time, it is not a fact that the selection for the main football tournament will be much easier for her than in Europe. The roster of participants in the North American World Championship was expanded from 32 to 48 teams. The UEFA zone has a third of the total number of slots – 16, while the AFC – only eight guaranteed tickets (one more can be earned in the intercontinental play-off).
Even more evident is the damage to the clubs.
By leaving UEFA, they are deprived of European competitions, which attract sponsors, serve as an additional incentive in player transfer negotiations, as well as an important source of income for the domestic giants. In this sense, the Asian Champions League is behind the European one not by one body, but by several bodies.
Its overall strength can at least be judged by the statistics of the annual Club World Championship. Since their debut draw in 2000, the trophy has gone exclusively to European and South American teams, with only two Asian teams – Kashima Antlers from Japan and Al Ain from the United Arab Emirates – making it to the final.
The prize money in tournaments is usually incomparable in size. In the Asian Champions League, the club receives $ 50,000 for winning the group stage, and something like a solid bonus – $ 4 million – is expected only for the title of the winner. In the European tournament, getting into the group alone brings around 15 million euros, and Zenit in 2021, even if they didn’t make it to the playoffs, still earned around 40. Furthermore, in terms of club share, it is likely to grow further in the coming years thanks to the reform of the UEFA Champions League.