European soccer’s governing body, UEFA, will relocate the May 28 final, which is the largest club soccer match in the world, to Paris. The match, which was supposed to be held at Gazprom Arena in St. Petersburg, will now be held at Stade de France in St. Denis.
“UEFA wishes to express its thanks and appreciation to French Republic President Emmanuel Macron for his personal support and commitment to have European club football’s most prestigious game moved to France at a time of unparalleled crisis,” said UEFA, in a statement, on Friday.
“Together with the French government, UEFA will fully support multi-stakeholder efforts to ensure the provision of rescue for football players and their families in Ukraine who face dire human suffering, destruction and displacement.”
Formula 1, UEFA announce Russian boycott
UEFA also decided that Russian and Ukrainian clubs, including national teams competing in UEFA competitions, will be required to play their home matches at neutral venues until further notice.
A day earlier, on Thursday, UEFA released a statement saying that it “strongly condemns the ongoing Russian military invasion in Ukraine. … We remain resolute in our solidarity with the football community in Ukraine and stand ready to extend our hand to the Ukrainian people,” marking a significant change in attitude.
Governing bodies of international sports, which have been struggling to determine their role in condemning the Russia-Ukraine conflict, are starting to take action, with the UEFA move considered the most significant so far. Later on Friday, Formula 1 released a statement about its race that had been scheduled to be held in Sochi in September, saying “It is impossible to hold the Russian Grand Prix in the current circumstances.”
Formula 1’s statement said that it was “watching the developments in Ukraine with sadness and shock and hope for a swift and peaceful resolution to the present situation.” Before the audio racing circuit announced it would not hold the Russian Grand Prix, as things stand now, a Formula 1 champion said he would not attend.
“I woke up to this morning’s news shocked. I think it’s horrible to see what is happening. Obviously, if you look at the calendar, we have a race scheduled in Russia,” said Sebastian Vettel, a four-time Formula 1 champion, in an interview with the The Associated Press. “My own opinion is I should not go, I will not go. I think it’s wrong to race in the country. I’m sorry for the innocent people that are losing their lives, that are getting killed (for) stupid reasons and a very strange and mad leadership.”
Support for moving the UEFA Champions League final surprisingly coalesced around UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who said, “He is going to end up with … a Russia that is more isolated, a Russia that has pariah status; no chance of holding football tournaments in a Russia that invades sovereign countries.”
UEFA, soccer clubs’ complicated Russian ties
It complicates matters, in a real way, that UEFA and numerous major European soccer clubs have significant ties to Russia.
Alexander Dyukov, an executive at the Russian state-owned energy corporation Gazprom, is the president of the Russian Football Union and the former president of the Zenit St. Petersburg club. Gazprom sponsors the German club Schalke 04, which announced that it would remove the company’s logo from its jerseys.
Chelsea, which beat Manchester City in last year’s Champions League final, is owned by Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich.
Labour Party MP Chris Bryant suggested that documents showed Abramovich, who has owned Chelsea since 2003, engaged in “illicit finance and malign activity,” adding that, “Surely, Mr. Abramovich should no longer be able to own a football club in this country?”
Ukrainian Premier League suspends operations
The Ukrainian Premier League suspended its operations for 30 days, with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s decision to impose martial law cited as the reason for the move. In a video posted to social media, a group of Brazilian players based in Ukraine called for more support of Ukraine from Brazilian authorities.
“Really the desperation is high,” said Shakhtar Donetsk defender Marlon Santos, in an Instagram post accompanying the video. “We are living in chaos. We are getting support from our club. But the desperation is agonizing. And we expect support from our country.”
Other sport bodies comment — or not
FIFA, soccer’s international governing body, has yet to comment on upcoming World Cup qualifiers. On Thursday, the Czech, Polish, and Swedish football associations issued a joint statement saying they would not travel to Russia to play, calling upon FIFA and UEFA to “present alternative solutions” to any scheduled games.
Beyond soccer, the International Olympic Committee said in a statement Thursday that it is “deeply concerned about the safety of the Olympic community in Ukraine” and has “established a task force to closely monitor the situation and to coordinate humanitarian assistance to members of the Olympic community in Ukraine where possible.”
The International Paralympic Committee, which is set to host the Paralympic Games in Beijing next month, issued a statement joining the IOC’s condemnation. “This is a truly horrible situation, and we are greatly concerned about our National Paralympic Committee and Para athletes from Ukraine,” IPC President Andrew Parsons said.