UEFA vice president Nilsson resigns as head of Swedish sports body in fallout from pro-Russia vote

Updated Oct. 6, 2023 10:16 a.m. ET

GENEVA (AP) — UEFA’s decision to welcome Russian youth teams back into its competitions cost its Swedish vice president his other top-tier job Friday as head of a national sports body.

Karl-Erik Nilsson resigned as chairman of the Swedish Sports Confederation (RF), after coming under pressure in the 10 days since UEFA surprisingly eased its blanket ban on Russian teams imposed 19 months ago amid the invasion of Ukraine.

“It’s a very difficult decision to choose now to step to one side because I have felt a lot of dedication and happiness in the role,” said Nilsson in a statement announcing his exit from a job he was elected to in May.

The RF distributes about $180 million of state funding each year to Swedish sports down to grass roots.


“But since it has shown itself to be difficult to combine my two roles, and that it can influence the trust in me and Swedish sports, I am still choosing to do it,” said the former international soccer referee, who will continue as one of UEFA’s six vice presidents.

As the UEFA senior vice president — effectively No. 2 in rank to the European soccer body’s president Aleksander Ceferin — Nilsson had spoken in favor of and voted for a more pro-Russia policy at a Sept. 26 meeting in Cyprus.

Nilsson’s UEFA vote defied decisions last year by the Swedish soccer federation and national sports bodies not to play against Russian teams or let its athletes enter the country to compete.

Swedish soccer officials reiterated their opposition to Russian teams after the UEFA vote.

He got into further trouble in Sweden by initially playing down British media reports that he had voted in favor of Russia.

Sweden also is the scheduled host for UEFA of the women’s Under-17 European Championship finals tournament next year.

Qualifying groups for men and women organized by UEFA start this month and Nilsson is due to take part in a UEFA executive committee meeting on Tuesday to update on progress in Nyon, Switzerland.

At least 12 of UEFA’s 55 member federations including Ukraine, England and Sweden have restated that they will not play games against Russian teams.

UEFA justified its decision by saying it was unfair to punish children in Russia for actions and decisions ordered by the national government. The youth teams would still have to compete without their flag, anthem or national colors, and only play games outside Russia.

However, it went beyond International Olympic Committee advice to governing bodies to continue excluding Russian athletes from team sports.

Nilsson can continue as a UEFA vice president for another 18 months until his current mandate expires in 2025.


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