Russia-Ukraine invasion: UEFA poised to move Champions League final from St Petersburg

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine overnight forced European football’s governing body to start drawing up contingency plans on Thursday for the showpiece event on May 28.

UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin has called an extraordinary meeting for Friday where it is expected the 68,000-capacity Gazprom Arena will be stripped of its right to host the final due to Russia’s attacks.

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“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 1000 CET (0900 GMT), in order to evaluate the situation and take all necessary decisions,” an initial UEFA statement read.

Contingency plans are being drawn up by UEFA over where to host this season’s Champions League final, the PA news agency understands. The 68,000-capacity Gazprom Arena in St Petersburg had been awarded the chance to host Europe’s showpiece event but overnight events look likely to force a change of venue. Issue date: Thursday February 24, 2022.

The governing body of European football later added: “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.

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

Football Supporters Europe had called for an “imminent announcement” over arrangements for the Champions League final.

“On this tragic day, our thoughts are with everyone in Ukraine, our friends, colleagues, members and their loved ones,” an FSE statement on Twitter read.

“Given the events unfolding, we expect an imminent announcement from UEFA on the relocation of the Champions League final from St Petersburg.”

After changing the venue for the final of the 2020 and 2021 editions due to the coronavirus pandemic, UEFA looks set to be forced into a further switch, but may wait until the latter stages of the competition to pick an alternative host – with the sides left in the tournament potentially swaying to a final decision.

Labor MP and former minister Chris Bryant has questioned Abramovich’s continued ownership of Chelsea after citing a leaked Home Office document from 2019 suggesting he was “of interest to HMG due to his links to the Russian state and his public association with corrupt activity and practices”.

Speaking at business questions, Mr Bryant said: “Surely Mr Abramovich should no longer be able to own a football club in this country? Surely we should be looking at seizing some of his assets including his £152 million home?

“And making sure that other people who have had Tier 1 Visas like this are not engaged in malignant activity?”

Meanwhile, the Ukraine Premier League was set to end its winter break on Saturday but a suspension of the division has occurred following Russia’s attack.

Football in the country stopped on December 13 and will remain paused, which could have a knock-on effect for preparations for next month’s World Cup qualifier with Scotland in Glasgow on March 24.

“Due to the imposition of martial law in Ukraine, the championship of Ukraine has been suspended,” a statement from the Ukraine Premier League read.

Ukraine are due to face the Republic of Ireland home and away in the Nations League in June, and the Football Association of Ireland has confirmed it is in ongoing contact with the Irish Government, UEFA and its Ukrainian counterparts.

An FAI statement read: “The FAI will continue to communicate on an ongoing basis with our Government, our colleagues at UEFA and the Ukraine Association of Football with regards to the latest developments and the implications for the Ukraine v Republic of Ireland fixture in the UEFA Nations League, currently fixed for Lviv on Tuesday, June 14th.

“The FAI will also welcome Ukraine to Dublin on June 4th for the opening fixture in the UEFA Nations League campaign. The FAI awaits the outcome of the UEFA ExCo meeting on Friday, February 25th which has been called to discuss the current situation in the Ukraine.”

In Germany, second tier Schalke announced the logo of main sponsor Gazprom would be removed from the club’s shirts.

The football associations of Poland, Sweden and the Czech Republic issued a joint statement on Thursday afternoon calling for World Cup play-off matches not to be played in Russia.

Poland are set to play Russia on March 24, with the winner set to take on either Sweden or the Czechs.

“Based on the current alarming development in the conflict between Russia and Ukraine, including the security situation, the Football Associations of Poland, Sweden and Czech Republic express their firm position that the play-off 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 statement read.

“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.”

Following a meeting of the FIFA Council on Thursday, the governing body’s president, Gianni Infantino, revealed no decision had yet been over the fixtures and expressed hope that the conflict could be “solved” by the time they are due to be played.

“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,” said Infantino.

“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 make a decision at any time. We are analyzing the situation and we will make the decision when we have to take it.”

Infantino, who also reaffirmed his faith in sport to bring people together when asked whether he had any regrets over staging the 2018 World Cup in Russia, added: “FIFA expresses hope for a rapid cessation of hostilities and for peace in Ukraine. FIFA condemns as well the use of force by Russia in Ukraine and any type of violence to resolve conflicts.

“Violence is never a solution and therefore we call on all parties to restore peace through constructive dialogue. And of course FIFA continues to express our solidarity to the people affected by this conflict.”

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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