UEFA and European footballAnd the club’s board of directors said, on Thursday, that the Champions League final, the biggest match in European club football, would not be held in St Petersburg, Russia. UEFA strips Russia of hosting awards following the Russian-led invasion Ukraine early Thursday.
The match, scheduled for May 28, was to be played at a stadium financed by Russian energy giant Gazprom, one of UEFA’s main sponsors.
After an emergency board meeting on Friday, UEFA chose Paris as an alternative location for the match to be held at the 80,000-seat Stade de France.
“UEFA would like to express its thanks and appreciation to the President of the French Republic, Emmanuel Macron, for his personal support and commitment to bringing the best game of European club football to France at a time of unprecedented crisis,” the group said in a statement. “Together with the French government, UEFA will fully support the multi-stakeholder efforts to ensure the provision of rescue to footballers and their families in Ukraine who are facing extreme human suffering, destruction and displacement.”
UEFA has long resisted any action to impose sanctions on Russia even when, earlier this week, Russian President Vladimir Putin formally recognized rebel-held parts of eastern Ukraine as independent republics and moved armed forces into the region.
The conflict in Ukraine highlights Gazprom and the company’s enormous impact on European football. In addition to controlling Russia’s largest club, FC Zenit, Gazprom members sit on the boards of influential sporting groups including the European Club Association, which represents top clubs across the continent. Since 2007, Gazprom has been the main sponsor of Schalke 04, one of the largest clubs in Germany. But Schalke 04 said on Thursday it would remove the Gazprom logo from the club’s shirts in protest of the military invasion.
UEFA has yet to decide whether Russian teams still in club competitions will be allowed to continue playing. On Thursday, Zenit was scheduled to play the second game of a playoff against Real Betis in Spain in the Europa League, the second-tier club championship in Europe.
There is also growing speculation that calls for sanctions against high-profile Russian companies and oligarchs in response to the Ukrainian invasion may target Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich, who owns Chelsea FC, last year’s Champions League winner. When the British government this week announced the list of Russian billionaires who will be subject to new sanctions, Abramovich’s name was not on the list. Nor was Alisher Usmanov, the Russian oligarch who owns a stake in Premier League team Everton through a holding company, USM. But many, including members of Britain’s opposition Labor Party, have called for the two men to be added to the sanctions list.
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