Russia switch to Asia would require thorough examination - Saudi chief
MANAMA, Feb 2 (Reuters) - Saudi Arabia football chief Yasser Almisehal said the possibility of Russia switching to the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) would come only after exhaustive examination of the implications.
FIFA and UEFA banned Russian teams from all competitions after the invasion of Ukraine last February and, with those sanctions still in place, speculation has been mounting over the Russian Football Union (RFU)'s next move.
Switching from the European governing body to Asia's 47-nation confederation has been touted by RFU chief Aleksander Dyukov as a possible option to allow the Russian national team and clubs continued international competition.
The notion was given a boost when the Olympic Council of Asia said last week that athletes from Russia and Belarus could use its qualifying events for the Paris 2024 Summer Games if they are excluded from European competition.
Almisehal, the president of the Saudi Arabian Football Federation, said such a transfer could only be considered after being thoroughly assessed by the AFC.
"It really needs a thorough study: What would that add to the continent? What kind of benefits would football in Asia have out of that move?" Almisehal, who was elected onto the FIFA Council on Wednesday, told Reuters.
"In recent years we've not seen such a transaction so it would take a lot of deep studying to evaluate whether it makes sense to do that, if it becomes a real request."
Alexey Sokoryn, Russia's former FIFA Council member and organiser of the 2018 World Cup, was present at Wednesday's congress, adding to speculation that discussions would be taking place between Russian and Asian officials.
Almisehal, though, said speculation was all it was.
"Today we had four other FIFA Council members here as guests," he added.
"I've not heard anything about any intentions for the Russians to do such a step, but if it becomes official it will be handled by the relevant authorities, whether it's the AFC, FIFA or UEFA.
"But to be honest I've not heard anything about this and it's only speculation in the media."
Moves between confederations are rare.
Former Soviet republic Kazakhstan left the AFC in 2000 to become a full member of UEFA two years later, while Australia made the switch to Asia from Oceania in 2006.
Australia's move was less than popular among some in Asia, especially as they have taken one of the continent's slots at every World Cup finals since.
Ravshan Irmatov, vice president of the Uzbekistan Football Association, which joined the AFC in 1994 following the break up of the Soviet Union, said he was not against the idea of the Russians making a similar move.
"I'm always of the opinion that I don't like to mix politics with sport, even if we played a friendly game with Russia," said the former World Cup referee.
"It's football. We are sports people, it's not politics. If the AFC's executive committee decides (Russia can join), then why not?"
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