Russia to allow more foreigners on soccer field

MOSCOW (AP) — Russia will allow soccer clubs to field eight foreign players from the 2020-21 season, loosening long-standing and controversial protections for local footballers.

Current rules mean clubs must have at least five domestic players on the field at all times, but that will drop to three under new rules approved Wednesday by the Russian Football Union.

However, clubs will not be allowed to have more than eight foreigners in their total squad. That is unlikely to pose a problem for most teams — Spartak Moscow and CSKA Moscow have eight apiece already — but could force Zenit St. Petersburg, with 14 foreigners on its books, to sell some fringe players.

The current rules were widely criticized for shielding Russian players from competition for places, but backers argued it gave more chances to young domestic footballers.

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Russia President Vladimir Putin was critical when Zenit chose to field eight foreigners in a game against Real Sociedad in 2017.

“A real Russian game, football,” Putin told Zenit’s then-president Sergei Fursenko. “You’ve got eight foreigners running across the pitch, playing for Zenit in the Europa League, well done.”

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