The Russian city of St. Petersburg could lose the rights to host this year’s UEFA Champions League final over tensions with Ukraine.
Officials from European football’s governing body have been holding discussions about the situation after Russian President Vladimir Putin recognised two breakaway republics in eastern Ukraine on Monday, and the European Union, USA, Britain and Canada all announced new sanctions in response.
The showpiece game in European football is due to be played at the Gazprom Arena in Russia’s second city on 28th May, the biggest sporting event in the country since the 2018 World Cup.
UEFA hasn’t yet issued a fresh statement after the most recent developments but said over the weekend that it was “constantly and closely monitoring the situation” and had no plans to change the final venue.
However, a person with knowledge of the situation said the Ukraine crisis was discussed by top-level officials at UEFA on Tuesday, including its president, Aleksander Ceferin. The person spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss talks assessing the geopolitical situation.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson indicated in the House of Commons that Russia shouldn’t be holding such a competition.
Johnson warned of “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.”
Britain’s Minister for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, Nadine Dorries, said she has “serious concerns about the sporting events due to be held in Russia, such as the Champions League final, and will discuss with the relevant bodies.”
UEFA has had to move the Champions League final in the last two seasons, both times from Turkey to Portugal due to the pandemic. A full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine would significantly change UEFA’s belief the final could still be played in St. Petersburg.
With four representatives in the last 16, England has the most teams remaining in the Champions League. Tom Tugendhat, chairman of the British parliament’s foreign affairs committee at the House of Commons, has called for UEFA to take the final off Russia.
“This is a shameful decision,” Tugendhat tweeted. “UEFA should not be providing cover to a violent dictatorship.”
Russian and Ukrainian teams separated in match fixtures
UEFA has been keeping Ukrainian and Russian teams separated in draws to prevent them from playing each other since Moscow annexed the Crimea peninsula of Ukraine in 2014, and backed separatist insurgents in eastern Ukraine.
Russia’s state gas company, Gazprom, has been a sponsor of the Champions League since 2012 — the same year Ukraine co-hosted the European Championship with Russia.
But the company’s logos were removed from a UEFA-branded “Champions Festival” on Kyiv’s main street when the Ukrainian capital staged the 2018 Champions League final between Real Madrid and Liverpool.