Russia’s aggressive actions in Eastern Ukraine could result in St. Petersburg losing its right to host the Champions League final. While UEFA, the organization that runs the Champions League, resists calls to relocate the game, some European sponsors are threatening to pull their support from the event unless UEFA acquiesces to the calls for relocation.
UEFA has scheduled the final for May 29, 2022, and resentment for the game’s venue is growing among some European nations. Lawmakers in the UK have expressed concerns regarding St. Petersburg hosting the event. British minister Nadine Dorries tweeted, “I have serious concerns about the sporting events due to be held in Russia, such as the Champions League final, and will discuss with the relevant governing bodies.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin recently authorized an invasion of eastern Ukraine, funneling troops into the Donbas region. Putin claims that separatists in Donbas want the Russian military there, as they wish to be annexed by their eastern neighbor. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky characterizes the separatists as an extremist faction that doesn’t speak for the majority of the region.
Western governments have responded to Putin’s overt land grab with economic sanctions. NATO and Russia both hope the conflict can be handled with diplomacy, but Europe is bracing for armed conflict if things get worse in Ukraine.
Britain’s opposition to the host city could prove troublesome for UEFA. The UK could provide both teams for the final, and a British boycott of the Champions League final could result in UEFA losing the players before the lucrative match.
Complicating matters further, British Prime Minister Boros Johnson recently announced economic sanctions against Russia as a result of their actions in Ukraine. These sanctions include a provision that freezes the assets of Russian businessman Roman Abramovich, who owns Chelsea Football Club. Chelsea was one of two Champions League finalists in 2021 and is one of the most popular soccer clubs in the world.
FIFA, the organization that operates the World Cup, hasn’t weighed in on the situation yet. However, Poland and Russia have a qualification match scheduled for March in Moscow, and the Polish soccer federation has reached out to FIFA for a comment on the situation.
The Champions League and World Cup are massive draws for soccer fans in Europe and around the world. There’s a lot of money at stake in these competitions, and their governing bodies will need to carefully navigate the tense situation in Ukraine if they want to avoid controversy.