Ukraine national football team’s kit features Russian-annexed Crimea and popular nationalist slogans.
UEFA, the governing body of European football, has ordered Ukraine to remove a “political” slogan from its national football kit for the upcoming Euro 2020 tournament.
The message “Glory to our Heroes”, printed on the inside of the shirt, was “clearly political in nature”, UEFA said on Wednesday.
The slogan was widely used as a rallying cry during a 2014 popular uprising in Ukraine that removed Kremlin-backed leader Viktor Yanukovich.
UEFA’s move came after Russia sent a letter of complaint to the governing body on Tuesday over the yellow jersey, which also features an outline of the country’s borders that includes Russia-annexed Crimea and the separatist-controlled regions of Donetsk and Luhansk.
UEFA said the map was not a concern because a UN General Assembly Resolution “recognises the territorial borders as broadly depicted by the design”.
It also ruled that a phrase featured on the outside of the shirt – “Glory to Ukraine” – was acceptable as on its own, it may be considered as a “generic and non-political phrase of general national significance”.
That chant was also used by protesters who rallied against Yanukovich during the so-called Maidan revolution seven years ago.
However, the governing body said the “specific combination” of the two slogans featured on the shirt was “clearly political in nature” and had historic and militaristic significance.
It said the “Glory to our Heroes” slogan featured inside the shirt must therefore be removed.
Russia immediately welcomed UEFA’s move, with foreign ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova saying that sport should not be mixed with politics.
“Sports is not a battlefield, but a place for competition; it is not a political arena but an athletic one. Become heroes of sports and you will have your glory,” she said.
“Do it that way and not with nationalist slogans.”
Ukraine had said the shirt was a symbol of national unity, and President Volodymyr Zelenskyy posted a selfie on Instagram with the kit on this week.
Tensions have persisted between Moscow and Kyiv since Russia annexed Crimea and the start of a Russian-backed separatist rebellion in eastern Ukraine in 2014.
Ukraine play their opening Euro 2020 match against the Netherlands on June 13 in Amsterdam and also face Austria and North Macedonia in Group C.
Russia take on Belgium, the world’s top-ranked team, in their opener on home turf in St Petersburg on June 12, before facing Denmark and Finland.