Source AP: Russia will no longer host the Champions League final
UEFA will no longer host the Champions League final in Saint Petersburg after Russia launched a wide-ranging attack on Ukraine Thursday, the Associated Press learned.
An extraordinary meeting of UEFA’s executive committee will be held on Friday to discuss the geopolitical crisis and when officials are expected to confirm the withdrawal of Russia’s May 28 showpiece match, a person with knowledge of the process said on Thursday. The person spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss private discussions.
UEFA publicly reprimanded Russia and said it was dealing with the “situation with the utmost seriousness and urgency” while confirming the meeting for 09:00 GMT on Friday.
“UEFA shares the international community’s grave concern over the developing security situation in Europe and strongly condemns the ongoing Russian military invasion of Ukraine,” the governing body said in a statement.
“We remain resolute in our solidarity with the football community in Ukraine and we are ready to reach out to the Ukrainian people.”
The Football Federation of Ukraine issued a statement calling for the Champions League final to be moved and all Russian clubs and national teams to be suspended from international competitions.
As Russia’s threats to Ukraine grew over the week, the UK government and fan groups had already called for the final not to be played in St Petersburg, where the stadium is sponsored by the Russian energy giant, Gazprom.
The company is also Schalke’s main sponsor, but the German second division club said on Thursday that the Gazprom logo was being removed from its shirts.
A senior Gazprom executive has also quit the Gelsenkirchen-based club’s supervisory board after facing US sanctions. Matthias Warnig is the CEO of the newly built but never operated Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, which is a multi-billion dollar project by Gazprom and European companies.
Critics said Schalke had been used to popularize Gazprom in Germany as it pushed to build the gas pipelines under the Baltic Sea, which bypassed Ukraine. Gazprom has been a sponsor since 2006 and provided the money that fueled a run to the Champions League semi-finals in 2011.
German newspaper Bild this week began covering Gazprom logos on Schalke shirts with “Freedom for Ukraine” in protest at Russia’s intensified military intervention in Ukraine.
Gazprom’s sponsorship of UEFA is also under scrutiny, with its brand having a significant profile this week in the Champions League Round of 16.
UEFA management had delayed calling the venue for the Champions League final until Russia began targeting towns and military bases in Ukraine with airstrikes and shelling on Thursday as tanks and troops were crossing the border.
The International Olympic Committee said it “strongly condemns the violation of the Olympic truce by the Russian government”, a few days after the closing of the Winter Olympics in Beijing.
The truce aims to ensure the safe passage of athletes during the Games and, in the long term, to promote the idea of working for peace in the world. It runs until the end of the Paralympic Games, which are due to open in Beijing on March 4.
The International Paralympic Committee has condemned Russia and said it has held talks with sports officials in Ukraine, which still plans to compete in Beijing and demands safe passage for its athletes.
“This is a truly horrific situation, and we are very concerned about our National Paralympic Committee and Ukrainian para-athletes,” said IPC President Andrew Parsons. “Our top priority at this time is the safety and well-being of the Ukrainian delegation, with whom we are in regular dialogue.”
Russia’s name, flag and anthem are already barred from the Paralympic Games from March 4-13 in Beijing due to previous doping disputes. His team is to compete under the name RPC, short for Russian Paralympic Committee.
Russia has violated the Olympic truce three times in 14 years, waging war with Georgia over the disputed territory of South Ossetia during the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics and launching a military takeover that annexed the Crimean peninsula in Ukraine after the conclusion of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics.
Attention turns to Russia which will host other major sporting events in the coming months.
In tennis, the men’s professional tour issued a statement announcing that the ATP Challenger tournament which was to be played in Moscow next week “will not take place as planned”, due to “concerns regarding the safety of players and the international travel uncertainty following the recent escalation of events between Russia and Ukraine.
In basketball, Barcelona said their team would not fly to Russia for two matches against Russian teams – Zenit St. Petersburg and CSKA Moscow – on Friday and Sunday in the Euroleague. A Basketball World Cup qualifier between Spain and Ukraine was played as scheduled in Spain on Thursday despite some requests from Ukrainian players to suspend the game. The whole crowd and the Spanish team cheered the Ukrainians loudly before the match.
Ukrainian NBA players Alex Len of the Sacramento Kings and Svi Mykhailiuk of the Toronto Raptors released a joint statement on social media, saying:
“We categorically condemn the war. Ukraine is a peaceful and sovereign state inhabited by people who want to decide their own destiny. We pray for our families, our friends, our loved ones and all the people who are on Ukrainian territory. We hope for an end to this terrible war as soon as possible. Dear Ukrainian compatriots, wait! Our strength is in unity! We are with you!”
In rugby, European organizers have postponed Georgia’s match against Russia on Sunday in Tbilisi as part of the European Rugby Championship. The women’s game between Spain and Russia on Saturday in Madrid was still relevant.
FIFA has yet to comment on Russia’s planned hosting of a World Cup qualifier semi-final against Poland on March 24 for the right to also host the winner of a Republic Czech Republic and Sweden for a place in Qatar. The Polish, Czech and Swedish FAs have written to FIFA saying matches should not be played in Russia, citing “military escalation” and “less security”.
Formula 1 said it was “monitoring very fluid developments closely” but had no further comment on the cancellation of its Sochi race in September. Four-time F1 champion Sebastian Vettel has said he will not take part in the Russian Grand Prix.
“I won’t go,” said the German driver. “I think it’s wrong to run in the country. I feel sorry for the innocent people who lose their lives, who get killed (for) stupid reasons and a very strange and crazy direction.
In Ukrainian national sport, the Ukrainian Football Premier League suspended operations on Thursday due to President Volodymyr Zelensky’s decision to impose martial law. The league is on a two-month winter break and was due to resume on Friday. He gave no expected date to restart.
AP Sports Writer James Ellingworth in Düsseldorf, Germany, contributed to this report.
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