UEFA will not host the Champions League final in St Petersburg after Russia launched a massive attack on Ukraine The Associated Press learned Thursday.
A person familiar with the process said Thursday that an extraordinary meeting of UEFA’s executive committee will take place on Friday to discuss the geopolitical crisis and when officials are due to confirm the May 28 game being taken out of Russia. The person spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss private conversations.
UEFA publicly rebuked Russia and said it was treating the situation with “the utmost seriousness and urgency” while confirming the meeting at 0900 GMT on Friday.
“UEFA shares the international community’s grave concern about the evolving security situation in Europe and strongly condemns the ongoing Russian military invasion of Ukraine,” UEFA said in a statement.
“We remain resolute in our solidarity with the football community in Ukraine and stand ready to extend our hand to the Ukrainian people.”
With Russia’s threats to Ukraine growing during the week, the British government and fan groups have already called for the final not to take place in Saint Petersburg, where the stadium is sponsored by Russian energy giant Gazprom.
The company is also the main sponsor of Schalke 04, but the German second-division club said on Thursday that the Gazprom logo had been removed from its shirts.
A senior Gazprom executive also resigned from the supervisory board of the Gelsenkirchen-based club after it was the target of US sanctions. Matthias Warnig is the CEO of the newly built and decommissioned Nord Stream 2 pipeline from Russia to Germany, a multibillion-dollar project for Gazprom and European companies.
Critics said Schalke was used to promote Gazprom in Germany as it pushed for the construction of gas pipelines under the Baltic Sea, which bypassed Ukraine. Gazprom has been a sponsor since 2006 and provided the money that fueled the road to the Champions League semi-finals in 2011.
This week, German newspaper Bild began covering Gazprom’s slogans on Schalke Shirts with the phrase “Freedom for Ukraine” in protest of Russia’s growing military intervention in Ukraine.
UEFA’s sponsorship by Gazprom is also under scrutiny, with its brand enjoying a prominent profile this week in the Champions League round of 16.
The European Football Association (UEFA) leadership postponed a bid to host the Champions League final until Russia on Thursday began targeting cities and military bases in Ukraine with air strikes and shelling as tanks and troops rolled across the border.
The International Olympic Committee said it “strongly condemns the breach of the Olympic Truce by the Russian government”, days after the conclusion of the Winter Olympics in Beijing.
The armistice is intended to secure safe passage for the athletes during the Games and, in the long term, to promote the idea of working for world peace. It runs until the end of the Paralympic Games, which are scheduled to open in Beijing on March 4.
The International Paralympic Committee condemned Russia and said it had held talks with sports officials in Ukraine, which is still planning to compete in Beijing and requires safe passage for its athletes.
“This is a truly appalling situation, and we are deeply concerned about the National Paralympic Committee and athletes with disabilities from Ukraine,” said Andrew Parsons, President of the International Patent Federation. “Our top priority now is the safety and well-being of the Ukrainian delegation, with whom we have a regular dialogue.”
Russia’s name, flag and national anthem have already been banned from the March 4-13 Paralympic Games in Beijing due to past disputes over doping. Her team is scheduled to compete as the RPC, short for the Russian Paralympic Committee.
Russia has violated the Olympic Armistice three times in 14 years, going to war with Georgia over the disputed territories of South Ossetia during the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing and unleashing a military takeover of Ukraine’s Crimea after the closing of the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics.
The focus shifts to Russia’s hosting of other major sporting events in the coming months.
In basketball, Barcelona said its team would not travel to Russia to play two matches against Russia’s national teams – Zenit St Petersburg and CSKA Moscow – on Friday and Sunday in the Euroleague.
In rugby, European organizers postponed Georgia’s match with Russia on Sunday in Tbilisi for the European Rugby Championships. The women’s match between Spain and Russia continued on Saturday in Madrid.
FIFA has not yet commented on Russia’s scheduled hosting of the World Cup qualifiers semi-final against Poland on March 24 for the right to host the winner of a meeting between the Czech Republic and Sweden for a place in Qatar. The Polish, Czech and Swedish federations wrote to FIFA saying matches should not be played in Russia, citing a “military escalation” and a “low level of safety”.
Formula One said it was “closely watching developments which are very volatile” but made no further comment on whether its Sochi race in September would be cancelled. Four-time F1 champion Sebastian Vettel has said he will not race at the Russian Grand Prix.
“I’m not going,” said the German driver. “I think it is wrong to race the country. I am sorry for the innocents who lose their lives, those who are killed (for reasons of) stupidity and very strange and crazy driving.”
In Ukraine’s domestic sport, the Ukrainian Football Premier League was suspended on Thursday due to President Volodymyr Zelensky’s decision to impose martial law. The league had been on a two-month winter break and was due to resume on Friday. It did not mention any scheduled restart date.
Associated Press sports writer James Ellingworth in Düsseldorf, Germany contributed to this report.
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