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Russia ready to integrate football clubs from annexed Crimea peninsula

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MOSCOW - Football clubs in the Crimea region annexed by Russia could play in the Russian leagues this season, the Russian Football Union president Nikolai Tolstykh said on Wednesday.

Tolstykh told local media they will make a decision on Thursday about moving clubs from the cities of Simferopol, Sevastopol and Yalta into the Russian third tier.

Since Russia seized the peninsula in February, it has registered five new clubs there. The Simferopol and Sevastopol teams are using stadiums occupied by Ukrainian Premier League teams last season.

The Ukrainian Football Federation says Russia has no right to register clubs on what Ukraine considers its territory.

The RFU has "no doubts" that Crimean clubs must play in Russia, even though FIFA and UEFA "sanctions are possible," Sergei Stepashin, a former Russian prime minister who sits on the RFU executive committee, told local media.

The RFU wants Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko, a FIFA executive committee member, to lobby FIFA president Sepp Blatter on the issue, Stepashin added.

Russian organizers of the 2018 World Cup said in May they were considering building training bases in Crimea for competing national teams.

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