On Tuesday, UEFA awarded hosting rights for the 2026 men's European U-17 Championship Finals to Estonia. However, in a separate move, UEFA also announced that Russian and Belarussian U-17 teams will be allowed to resume their participation in international competitions.
Both the Latvian and Finnish football associations, which will jointly host the 2027 men's European U-17 Championship finals, have already expressed outrage at UEFA's decision to readmit Russian youth teams to international competition.
Meanwhile, the football associations of Ukraine and England also announced that their youth teams will not travel to any tournaments involving Russian sides, Reuters reports.
Under current Estonian laws, Russian citizens are not permitted to enter Estonia to participate in sporting competitions. Aivar Pohlak, president of the Estonian Football Association (EJL), told news outlet Delfi Sport that UEFA is aware of the Estonian government's policy regarding Russian athletes. Pohlak added that any decisions related to the potential participation of the Russian youth team in the tournament will be taken as and when that situation arises.
"There are three years until the U-17 European Championship finals in 2026. The possibility of the Russian U-17 team participating at this European Championship also depends on the preceding qualification campaign and so, therefore the issue has not been discussed separately with UEFA. Personally, I hope that by then the war in Ukraine will be over and normal relations between countries and nations will have been restored," said Pohlak.
"If the current situation continues, then the Estonian Football Association will, of course, comply with the binding decisions of the government of the Republic of Estonia regarding the non-admission of Russian athletes to the country. We do not see any possibility of applying for an exemption for a major tournament like this, unless we receive a clear signal that the attitude towards youth athletes has changed," Pohlak said.
Earlier this year, Estonia hosted another UEFA competition, the Women's U-17 European Championships, with matches taking place in Tallinn, Tartu and Võru between May 14 and 26.
Being awarded the opportunity to host another UEFA tournament is a clear indication that European football's governing body recognizes Estonia's organizational abilities.
"On the one hand, this is an acknowledgement from UEFA, that the Estonian Football Association and the Estonian state as a whole is a good partner for them, and on the other hand, we have always been committed to what we do when we have hosting rights," said Eva Nõmme, head of the Estonian Football Association's (EJL) public relations and partnerships department.
"From one perspective, that involves popularizing (the sport) in an area, while it also means seeing what can be done to improve the infrastructure. We have set ourselves those same tasks for the tournament, which will be held in Estonia in 2026," she added.
Where the matches during the tournament will be held, along with any necessary upgrades to the relevant infrastructure are still to be decided. However, UEFA's other decision on Tuesday to allow Russian and Belarusian U-17 national teams to return to international competition has already met with strong reactions.
"We also read about this decision in the announcement that came on Tuesday with [the awarding of] our hosting rights and have been following the developments since then," said Nõmme.
"Athletes from Russia and Belarus will not be admitted to Estonia and so, that is the answer. We will follow those rules as a matter of course."
Could this mean the tournament's hosting rights are taken away from Estonia, if the situation is not resolved by 2026?
"UEFA is aware of the current restrictions imposed by the Estonian state, which mean Russian and Belarusian athletes are not allowed to enter the country. If this is still the case in two and a half years' time, we will deal with it then, however there is still a long way to go," Nõmme said.
Editor: Michael Cole