Fifa says it will not punish the Cameroon midfielder Gaël Ondoua for wearing the Russian flag on his boots for the second time at the World Cup finals in Qatar despite the governing body’s ban on European nations wearing the OneLove armband.
Ondoua, 27, who was born in Yaounde and moved to Russia as a child where his father served as a diplomat, says that there is no political element to him wearing boots adorned with the Russian flag. Russia were banned in February from World Cup qualifying by Fifa after its invasion of Ukraine.
The English and Welsh football associations, along with five other Uefa nations at the World Cup, were told that they faced "sporting sanctions" from Fifa for any player who defied their rules, and wore the OneLove armband. The English FA was forced into a climbdown on the eve of the first game against Iran with captain Harry Kane facing a yellow card if he wore the armband to show solidarity with the LGBT community, criminalised in Qatar.
The small Russia flag, printed directly onto Ondoua’s Puma boots was visible during Cameroon’s game against Serbia alongside the vertical tricolour of his home nation. Ondoua also carried a folded flag in the aftermath of the Cameroon comeback to draw 3-3, although pictures of it were not definitive.
Fifa will not punish Ondoua for the flag on his boots as it considers it justifiable on the basis of his Russian background, the governing body has indicated.
Russia were thrown out of World Cup qualifying by Fifa at the play-off stage after their first opponent in the Uefa “Path A” knock-out route - Poland - as well as the two potential subsequent opposition, Sweden and the Czech Republic, all said they would refuse to play the games.
Originally Fifa had fudged the issue in February, telling Russia that it would have to play in neutral colours. As the three nations voiced their opposition to the decision and international outcry grew, Fifa eventually banned Russian teams from all its competitions.
Ondoua grew up in Russia and is a graduate of the Lokomotiv Moscow academy. He has been reportedly contracted to three Russian clubs over his career, most recently Anzhi Makhachkala in 2021 but is currently at Hannover 96 in Germany. He has said that the Russian flag is not a political statement.
Posting in Russian on the Telegram messaging service, Ondoua wrote: “I see a lot of attention to my boots. Just in case, I want to emphasise that the Russian flag depicted on them is a sign of respect for the country in which I grew up, formed and received a football education.
“My relatives live in Russia and they are always with me. This is our home. I have been playing in boots with the Russian flag for many years and I am not going to break this tradition.”
Russia, the hosts of the previous World Cup in 2018, are now international sport pariahs, with athletes having been banned from competition by Uefa, the European football governing body and the International Olympic Committee. Russia’s top-flight domestic football season is continuing during the World Cup finals. Russian clubs are not permitted to compete in Uefa competitions and the national team is not in Euro 2024 qualifying.