UEFA to move Champions League final after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine; Poland won’t travel for WC qualifier

UEFA has called an extraordinary meeting of its executive committee for Friday to discuss the deepening crisis between Russia and Ukraine. European football’s governing body is set to move the final of this season’s Champions League on May 28, which was originally due to take place in Saint Petersburg’s Krestovsky Stadium, after Russia stepped up its campaign against its neighbor with a full-scale military attack on Ukraine in the early hours of Thursday morning.

Missiles have reportedly landed close to several major Ukrainian cities, including the capital Kyiv, prompting further outcry from the international community. The United States is among those nations who have confirmed that it will issue sanctions against Russia, the Vladimir Putin regime and his allies; the details of America’s package will be announced later on Thursday. In such circumstances, it is inevitable that the venue of European football’s showpiece match will move.

“Following the evolution of the situation between Russia and Ukraine in the last 24 hours, the UEFA President has decided to call an extraordinary meeting of the Executive Committee for Friday 25 February at 10:00 CET, in order to evaluate the situation and take all necessary decisions,” said a statement. “Further communication will be made after the meeting of the UEFA Executive Committee.”

Furthermore, UEFA issued a statement to condemn the Russian military invasion and to extend solidarity to residents of Ukraine.

UEFA shares the international community’s significant concern for the security situation developing in Europe and strongly condemns the ongoing Russian military invasion in Ukraine.

As the governing body of European football, UEFA is working tirelessly to develop and promote football according to common European values ​​such as peace and respect for human rights, in the spirit of the Olympic Charter. We remain resolute in our solidarity with the football community in Ukraine and stand ready to extend our hand to the Ukrainian people.

We are dealing with this situation with utmost seriousness and urgency. Decisions will be taken by the UEFA Executive Committee and announced tomorrow.

CBS Sports sources confirm that UEFA is drawing up contingency plans for alternative venues, though a specific replacement may not be selected until later in the Champions League tournament when it becomes clearer which countries will potentially be involved in the final. London has been intimated as a possible host city and West Ham’s 60,000 capacity home stadium has intimated it would be interested in holding the final, which has involved five English teams in the last four years. Wembley Stadium and Tottenham Hotspur Stadium are both currently in use on the day of the final.

The Champions League final is not the only matter to be addressed. Questions have also been raised about UEFA’s involvement with Gazprom. The majority state-owned energy company has sponsored the Champions League since 2012, adverts for the company have been a staple of match broadcasts ever since. The deal is reported to be worth $45 million a year.

Politicians in the European Parliament have called for that association to end, saying in an open letter: “We call on you to stop considering Saint Petersburg and other Russian cities as venues for international football competitions and to choose as a first and very urgent step an alternative venue for the Champions League final on May 28, 2022.

“In addition, we appeal to you to convene a special meeting of the UEFA Executive Committee, to terminate cooperation with Gazprom as UEFA sponsor and to consider sanctions against individual Russian officials who are complicit in the violation of international law.”

German club Schalke 04 said it will remove Gazprom as its jersey sponsor.

In footballing terms, Russia are due to host Poland in a World Cup qualifier on March 24, if they won that match they would also play at home to the winner of the match between Sweden and the Czech Republic. The football associations of all three countries say they will not travel to Russia.

A joint statement said: “Based on the current alarming development in the conflict between Russia and Ukraine including the security situation the Football Associations of Poland (PZPN), Sweden (SvFF) and Czech Republic (FAR) express their firm position that the playoff matches to qualify for the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar, scheduled for 24 and 29 March 2022, should not be played in the territory of the Russian Federation.

“The signatories to this appeal do not consider traveling to Russia and playing football matches there. The military escalation that we are observing entails serious consequences and considerably lower safety for our national football teams and official delegations. Therefore, we expect FIFA and UEFA to react immediately and to present alternative solutions regarding places where these approaching playoff matches could be played.”

FIFA issued a statement of its own later on Thursday, confirming that decisions on the status of the qualifier would be taken “in due course”. Speaking after a meeting of the FIFA Council, president Gianni Infantino expressed his hope that the conflict would be “solved” in time for the matches in one month’s time.

“The situation that we have all discovered this morning is obviously very tragic and very worrying and we have a duty to look at this matter seriously to analyze it,” he said. “We received this letter just shortly before the meeting and we will look at it as a matter of urgency.

“The first match is one month from now and of course we hope that this whole situation will be solved before then — well before then, as soon as possible. We want to strongly believe in that. But we have a body in place, the bureau, who can take a decision at any time. We are analyzing the situation and we will take the decision when we have to take it.”

The country’s involvement in this summer’s Women’s European Championships and men’s Nations League fixtures will also be up for discussion. Real Betis are due to play Russian side Zenit Saint Petersburg in a Europa League qualifier on Thursday.

Zenit and Spartak Moscow, who will be in the hat for the Europa League last 16, are the last remaining Russian representatives in European competition this season. No Ukrainian sides qualified for the latter stages of UEFA’s three competitions. Ukraine’s domestic league was due to resume this weekend but has been suspended in light of the conflict.

Ukraine international Yaroslav Rakitskyi plays for Zenit, he posted a picture of his country’s flag on his Instagram along with the caption “I’m Ukrainian.” Meanwhile, several Brazilian footballers have gathered in a hotel where they have asked for updates. Brazil has the most foreign representatives in the Ukrainian league, with 30.

Marlon, one of 13 Brazilians on the Shakhtar Donetsk roster, said: “We are here asking you for help through this video due to the lack of fuel that exists in the city, closed border, closed airspace, there is no way for us to leave. We ask a lot of support from the government of Brazil, so that it can help us. And I hope you can help us by promoting this video so that it can reach as many people as possible.”

Shakhtar left their home city in 2014 when conflict first began with Russia in east Ukraine. They have played in Kyiv’s Olympic Stadium since 2020. Their manager, Roberto De Zerbi, said he awoke to the sound of bombs but is not heeding Italian advice to leave the country.

“I am staying in my room. Today is not a good day,” De Zerbi told Sportitalia. “I’ve been waiting for the federation to suspend the season until this happened. However, I didn’t move. I am here to do sport and I could not turn my back on the fans.

“There are 13 Brazilian players here and my staff. We could have returned home, but we preferred to wait. Last night we woke up to the noise of explosions.” Ukraine’s airspace is now closed to civilian flights, meaning De Zerbi and millions of others may not be able to leave the capital.

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