Russia risks losing Champions League final over Ukraine crisis

UEFA is under pressure to move the Champions League football final from St Petersburg after Russia’s recognition of two breakaway Ukrainian regions.

UEFA Deputy General Secretary Giorgio Marchetti holds the name of Villarreal CF during the Champions League round of 16 draw
UEFA said over the weekend that it was 'constantly and closely monitoring the situation' and had no plans to change the final venue [File: Richard Juilliart/UEFA/AFP]

Officials at European football’s governing body have been holding discussions on the effect of Russia’s deepening intervention in Ukraine on whether the Champions League final can still be staged in St Petersburg.

The showpiece game in European football is due to be played in the Russian city on May 28, the biggest sporting event in the country since the 2018 World Cup.

UEFA said over the weekend that it was “constantly and closely monitoring the situation” and had no plans to change the final venue.

But 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 European football governing body has not issued a fresh statement since fears were raised of a fuller Russian invasion of Ukraine after Moscow announced on Monday the recognition of independence for separatist regions in eastern Ukraine.

The person spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss talks assessing the geopolitical situation.

Meanwhile, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said it would be “inconceivable” that major international football tournaments could take place in Russia after its recognition of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions.

Johnson made the comments in the House of Commons on Tuesday when Liberal Democrats leader Ed Davey encouraged the prime minister to “push for this year’s Champions League final to be moved from St Petersburg”.

“It is absolutely vital in this critical moment that President [Vladimir] Putin understands that what he is doing is going to be a disaster for Russia,” he said.

“It is clear from the response of the world to what he has done already in Donbas that he is going to end up with a Russia that is poorer … a Russia that is more isolated.”

‘Shameful decision’

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 officials have not yet acknowledged any troop deployments to the rebel east, but Vladislav Brig, a member of the separatist local council in Donetsk, told reporters that the Russian troops had already moved in, taking up positions in the region’s north and west.

UEFA has been keeping Ukrainian and Russian teams separated in draws to prevent them from playing each other since Moscow annexed the Crimean Peninsula and backed separatist groups 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.

Source: News Agencies