- The Washington Times - Monday, June 2, 2014

Russia national soccer team coach Fabio Cappello on Monday named the 23 players he will take to the World Cup — a team that, if two U.S. senators had their way, would not be heading to Brazil in light of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s questionable role in the deadly unrest that’s roiling Ukraine.

Republican Sens. Mark Kirk of Illinois and Dan Coats of Indiana had called on FIFA, soccer’s global governing body, to bar Russia from this year’s tournament and strip them of their right to host the 2018 World Cup, citing the association’s rules on nondiscrimination and racism.

Aides to the senators said their respective positions have not changed since their initial calls in March, when Russia occupied the Crimea, although it does not look as though either lawmaker is going to push the issue after FIFA rebuffed them earlier this year.

FIFA Secretary General Jerome Valcke said in a March 18 letter to the senators that participation in the World Cup or other competitions is “based on sporting merit and that only a violation of the FIFA Statutes and regulations could lead to a suspension of a FIFA member association or to the expulsion from a FIFA competition.”

“Please be informed that such Statues are applicable to and binding for Members of FIFA, but not per se to entities outside the pyramidal structure of the game of football,” he wrote.

Countries that frequently butt heads with the West have played in the tournament before, so FIFA’s decision is little surprise.

Iran is one of the 32 countries participating in this year’s tournament, and North Korea qualified in 2010 — a pair of nations that former President George W. Bush once lumped into an “axis of evil.”

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