In a move that acknowledges an inevitable influence of politics on European soccer, teams from Kosovo and Russia will no longer be drawn to play each other due to security risks.
European soccer body UEFA announced a ruling Friday that could affect the 2020 European Championship draw on Nov. 30.
Russia does not formally recognize Kosovo’s declaration of independence from Serbia in 2008. The problem flared when Russia’s scheduled visit to Kosovo for a qualifying game this month in the Women’s Under-21 European Championships was postponed. Russia was due to host Kosovo next June 9.
“The UEFA Emergency Panel furthermore decided that both matches … shall be organized by the two associations on neutral grounds,” UEFA said.
Ahead of the Euro 2020 draw, UEFA already said Serbia and Bosnia-Herzegovina cannot be in the same group as Kosovo if the teams qualify.
Kosovo is in contention to advance from a qualifying group that includes England, and has a second option through playoffs next March.
Russia already qualified for Euro 2020, and will host four games in St. Petersburg.
Russian teams have also been separated from Ukrainian teams in UEFA draws since annexing the Crimea region of Ukraine in 2014.
Ukraine joined Russia this month in advancing to the 24-nation Euro 2020, which is being hosted in 12 countries across the continent.
Four of the 12 hosts — Azerbaijan, Romania, Russia and Spain — do not recognize Kosovo, which was affiliated as a member of both UEFA and world soccer body FIFA in 2016. Romania hosts the Euro 2020 tournament draw next month in Bucharest.
UEFA has left open the option of modifying the draw after the last four qualifiers emerge from the March playoffs.
Spain, which faces a strong independence movement in Catalonia, refused to recognize the flag and anthem of Kosovo for scheduled qualifying games in February for UEFA’s Under-17 championship. UEFA took over hosting those games next to its headquarters in Nyon, Switzerland.
Weeks later, UEFA tightened its rules for member federations which agree to be entered in a draw with countries despite political issues.
“This policy obliges all other teams to accept to play against Kosovo national and club teams as the result of a draw, be it on their own territory or on the territory of Kosovo,” UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin said in May.