Russia-Ukraine showdown shadow on UEFA show


Champions League final stripped from St Petersburg Image: Zenit St. Petersburg

Russia is set to be stripped of hosting the Champions League Final after the President of Russia, Vladimir Putin, sent troops into Eastern Ukraine, sparking a global crisis.

Russia was hit by a series of sanctions imposed by the United States, United Kingdom and the European Union (EU) on February 22nd.

The ‘Daily Mail’ stated that the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) held emergency talks on February 22nd about moving the May 28th showpiece away from St Petersburg (City in Russia), with the 62,850-capacity Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in London (UK) and the 90,000-capacity Wembley Stadium in Wembley (UK) on standby.

However, in a latest development, the ‘ESPN’ stated that London’s Wembley Stadium is unlikely to be considered as a potential venue for this season’s Champions League Final in the event of the fixture being moved from the Russian City of Saint Petersburg. UEFA confirmed on February 22nd that they are “constantly and closely monitoring” the political situation involving Russia and the escalating tensions between the country and Western nations due to the threat of a Russian invasion of neighboring Ukraine.

The 2022 UEFA Champions League Final will be the final match of the 2021-2022 UEFA Champions League, the 67th season of Europe’s premier club football tournament organized by UEFA, and the 30th season since it was renamed from the European Champion Clubs’ Cup to the UEFA Champions League.

The Champions League final is due to be played at the 68,000-capacity Gazprom Arena in St Petersburg, Russia, on May 28th, 2022. However, aside from the ugly optics of allowing the match to take place in Russia, there are logistical issues.

The Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) is the administrative body for football, futsal and beach soccer in Europe, as well as Armenia, Israel and the Asian parts of some transcontinental countries. It is one of six continental confederations of world football’s governing body FIFA. UEFA consists of 55 national association members.

The ‘Daily Mail’ further stated that UEFA knows bans on supporters traveling to Russia are likely to be enforced by foreign offices, including the UK’s. That was one of several issues outlined to the UEFA President, Aleksander Čeferin, at a meeting held on February 21st.

The English Football League (EFL) is understood to be happy to discuss moving their matches.

In the Commons on February 22nd, the Prime Minister of United Kingdom, Boris Johnson, said billionaire businessman Roman Abramovich who is the owner of the Premier League club Chelsea F.C., was “already facing sanctions” despite that not being the case. Chelsea declined to respond and Johnson’s comments were later clarified.

The PM’s spokesperson said that Johnson had “mis-spoke” and “operationally the Parliamentary record will be clarified at the earliest opportunity”.

Johnson told MPs, “It’s absolutely vital that President Putin understands what he is doing is going to be a disaster for Russia. 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.”

Earlier, the former Sports Minister, Tracey Crouch, had called on UEFA to find a new venue for the Champions League Final.

The Champions League has been sponsored by majority Russian State-owned Gazprom since 2012.

That relationship is likely to come under the spotlight and several members of the European Parliament have already called for it to be terminated.

The Polish Football Association (PZPN) revealed they had been in touch with FIFA.

A spokesperson said, “Due to the tense political situation in Ukraine and the Russian Federation, as well as possible further escalation and the beginning of an armed conflict, the Polish Football Association asked FIFA to urgently clarify the issues related to the organization of the Russia-Poland World Cup play-off, scheduled for March 24th, in Moscow.

The role of the Polish Football Association is to provide Polish footballers with optimal conditions for preparation and performances in international matches – “Political decisions remain in the hands of State authorities and international bodies. However, being aware of the potential threats related to the current situation, we are waiting for the position of the governing bodies of the world federation. At the same time, the PZPN emphasizes that this case concerns not only the Poland national team, but also the national teams of Sweden and the Czech Republic, which could potentially face Russia in Moscow in a possible play-off final.”

FIFA said they were monitoring the situation.

Contingency plan

The ‘Independent’ stated that the UEFA is holding talks about moving the 2022 Champions League final from St Petersburg, although it may wait to see how the knockout stages develop so any venue better suits traveling fans.

The movement of Russian troops into East Ukraine now makes it virtually certain the fixture will be moved, with the governing body having been monitoring the situation since last week.

Even before one gets to the many political pressures and real-world consequences of two UEFA member-countries being in conflict, there is likely to be the logistical issues of fans being banned by their countries from traveling to Russia.

The UEFA stated that it now sees a contingency plan as essential, although there aren’t yet any concrete suggestions about venues.

The situation could require some diplomatic adaptation for the World Cup, too, given that both Russia and Ukraine are involved in FIFA’s play-offs next month.

The ‘Independent’ further stated that while they are in separate strands of the draw, with Ukraine traveling to Scotland and Russia hosting Poland, they may have to potentially be kept apart in Qatar if it gets to that.

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