The Union of European Football Associations announced Friday that it would move the Champions League final out of Russia in response to the nation’s attack on Ukraine.
European soccer’s governing body said it would relocate the May 28 final, the biggest club soccer match in the world, from Gazprom Arena in St. Petersburg to Paris.
The game will be played at Stade de France in St. Denis.
“UEFA wishes to express its thanks and appreciation to French Republic President Emmanuel Macron for his personal support and commitment to have European club football’s most prestigious game moved to France at a time of unparalleled crisis,” UEFA said in a Friday statement. “Together with the French government, UEFA will fully support multi-stakeholder efforts to ensure the provision of rescue for football players and their families in Ukraine who face dire human suffering, destruction and displacement.”
The committee also decided that Russian and Ukrainian clubs and national teams competing in UEFA competitions will be required to play their home matches at neutral venues until further notice, the statement said.
On Thursday, UEFA released a statement saying it “strongly condemns the ongoing Russian military invasion in Ukraine. … We remain resolute in our solidarity with the football community in Ukraine and stand ready to extend our hand to the Ukrainian people.”
Amid calls to move this spring’s Champions League final from St. Petersburg in response to Russia’s attack on Ukraine, UEFA said Thursday that its executive committee would meet to evaluate the situation.
The move of the May 28 final is the most significant development so far as governing bodies of international sports consider their responses to the escalating situation in Eastern Europe.
“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,” UEFA said in an additional statement Thursday. “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 the utmost seriousness and urgency. Decisions will be taken by the UEFA Executive Committee and announced [Friday].”
Support for moving the match coalesced in the United Kingdom, with Prime Minister Boris Johnson among those who have called for the match to be relocated. Four English clubs — Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City and Manchester United — are among the final 16 teams in the Champions League competition.
“A Russia that is more isolated, a Russia that has pariah status — [there is] no chance of holding football tournaments in a Russia that invades sovereign countries,” Johnson said this week in the House of Commons.
Complicating matters is the fact that UEFA and several major European soccer clubs have significant Russian ties.
The UEFA executive committee includes Alexander Dyukov, the chief executive of Gazprom, a Russian state-owned energy corporation, who also is the former president of club Zenit St. Petersburg and the current president of the Russian Football Union. Zenit St. Petersburg’s Europa League match against Real Betis was played in Spain as scheduled Thursday. German club Schalke 04, which is sponsored by Gazpom, announced that it would remove the company’s logo from its jerseys.
Chelsea, which beat Manchester City in last year’s Champions League final, is owned by Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich. Abramovich’s background was discussed in British Parliament on Thursday, when Chris Bryant, a member of the Labour Party, said in the House of Commons that he has documents dating back from 2019 that show “illicit finance and malign activity” by Abramovich, who has owned Chelsea since 2003.
“Surely Mr. Abramovich should no longer be able to own a football club in this country?” Bryant said.
Elsewhere, the Ukrainian Premier League suspended operations for 30 days, citing in a statement President Volodymyr Zelensky’s decision to impose martial law. A group of Brazilian players based in Ukraine posted a video on social media in which they called for support from Brazilian authorities.
“Really the desperation is high,” Shakhtar Donetsk defender Marlon Santos wrote in Portuguese in an Instagram post accompanying the video, in which the players appeared with their families. “We are living in chaos. We are getting support from our club. But the desperation is agonizing. And we expect support from our country.”
Upcoming World Cup qualifiers also could be disrupted. Russia is set to host Poland in Moscow on March 24, and Ukraine is set to play in Scotland that day. Sweden plays the Czech Republic on the same date, and the winner of that match is lined up to face the Russia-Poland winner in another qualifier March 29. On Thursday, the football associations of Poland, Sweden and the Czech Republic issued a joint statement saying they would not travel to Russia to play there and called on FIFA, the sport’s global governing body, and UEFA to “present alternative solutions.”
Beyond soccer, the International Olympic Committee said in a statement that it is “deeply concerned about the safety of the Olympic community in Ukraine” and has “established a task force to closely monitor the situation and to coordinate humanitarian assistance to members of the Olympic community in Ukraine where possible.”
The International Paralympic Committee, which is set to host the Paralympic Games in Beijing next month, issued a statement joining the IOC’s condemnation. “This is a truly horrible situation, and we are greatly concerned about our National Paralympic Committee and Para athletes from Ukraine,” IPC President Andrew Parsons said.
Formula One, which is scheduled to hold the Russian Grand Prix in Sochi in September, said in a statement that it “is closely watching the very fluid developments like many others and at this time has no further comment on the race scheduled for September.”
Sebastian Vettel, a four-time Formula One champion, said he plans to skip the race.
“I woke up to this morning’s news shocked. I think it’s horrible to see what is happening. Obviously, if you look at the calendar, we have a race scheduled in Russia,” Vettel said, via the AP, at preseason testing in Barcelona. “My own opinion is I should not go, I will not go. I think it’s wrong to race in the country. I’m sorry for the innocent people that are losing their lives, that are getting killed [for] stupid reasons and a very strange and mad leadership.”