How soccer reacts to Russia’s Ukraine invasion: Chelsea for sale; Everton cut Usmanov ties, Belarus sanction


Soccer across the world has taken a backseat after Russia’s large-scale invasion of Ukraine as part of the ongoing Russo-Ukrainian war. Players, club owners, sponsors and the game’s governing bodies have all been reacting to the escalation in aggression with some situations having already become untenable both politically and morally.

We keep track of how the soccer world is responding to Russia’s continued use of military force.

Sponsorship fallout

Everton suspend Usmanov deals: The Toffees have suspended commercial sponsorship deals with Alisher Usmanov-owned USM Holdings, Megafon and Yota after the Russian billionaire had his assets frozen by the EU. USM are training ground sponsors while Everton owner Farhad Moshiri is chairman and Usmanov even has an exclusive rights agreement for the club’s new stadium which is due to open for the 2024-25 season.

“Everyone at Everton remains shocked and saddened by the appalling events unfolding in Ukraine,” read an Everton statement. “This tragic situation must end as soon as possible, and any further loss of life must be avoided. The players, coaching staff and everyone working at Everton is providing full support to our (Ukrainian) player Vitalii Mykolenko and his family and will continue to do so. The club can confirm that it has suspended with immediate effect all commercial sponsorship arrangements with the Russian companies USM, Megafon and Yota.”

Schalke 04 and UEFA break with Gazprom: State-run Russian oil and gas giant Gazprom has been intertwined with European soccer for some time now both as one of the UEFA Champions League’s main sponsors and that of Schalke 04 in Germany’s Bundesliga 2.

The Royal Blues wasted little time in distancing themselves from the company by replacing the Gazprom logo on the front of their shirts with Schalke 04 before confirming that they have cut ties with the Russians who had a seat on the board which Matthias Warnig has stepped down from.

“The FC Schalke 04 managing board and supervisory board have come to the agreement to end the club’s partnership with Gazprom prematurely,” read a statement. “The club are currently in discussions with representatives of the current sponsor and further information will be released at a later date.”

UEFA confirmed on Monday that they have also parted ways with Gazprom after 12 years which came on the same day that European soccer’s governing body banned Russian teams from its competitions with Spartak Moscow excluded from the Europa League.

Manchester United cut Aeroflot ties: Gazprom was not the only sponsor-related movement in Europe with Manchester United moving to cancel Aeroflot’s sponsorship deal last week which had been in place since 2013 and had been renewed back in 2015.

“In light of events in Ukraine, we have withdrawn Aeroflot’s sponsorship rights,” read a club communique. “We share the concerns of our fans around the world and extend our sympathies to those affected.”

Adidas suspends Russian partnership: Adidas have also moved to address their manufacture of Russia’s national team soccer uniforms by suspending their partnership with the Russian Football Union (RFU) who were suspended by FIFA and UEFA while Poland, Sweden and Czech Republic all refused to participate in World Cup qualification, according to AFP.

Craving even more coverage of the world’s game? Listen below and follow ¡Qué Golazo! A Daily CBS Soccer Podcast where we take you beyond the pitch and around the globe for commentary, previews, recaps and more.

Ownership impact: Roman Abramovich to sell Chelsea

Chelsea up for sale: Chelsea FC owner and Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich announced he plans to sell the club in reaction to his country’s invasion of Ukraine and will donate the net proceeds of the sale to victims of the war.

The decision comes as the U.K. government has come under increasing pressure to freeze the assets of Russian oligarchs with alleged close ties to Vladimir Putin.

On Saturday, Abramovich stepped away from the day-to-day running of Chelsea and has left the “stewardship and care” of the club that he has owned for almost the past two decades to the London club’s charitable foundation. 

At least three suitors are prepared to submit bids as Matt Law of The Telegraph reporting that the Chelsea owner could be open to selling the team with the threat of sanctions looming over Stamford Bridge and Swiss billionaire Hansjorg Wyss claims that he has been approached about a potential deal.

The move by Abramovich, 55, has increased scrutiny on other Russian-owned or sponsored clubs in Europe such as AS Monaco in France’s Ligue 1 and Chelsea manager Thomas Tuchel has been the subject of intense media questioning since Saturday’s move to step back. Now, a new investment group will take over for Abramovich.

“I would like to address the speculation in media over the past few days in relation to my ownership of Chelsea FC,” Abramovich said in a statement. “As I have stated before, I have always taken decisions with the Club’s best interest at heart. In the current situation, I have therefore taken the decision to sell the Club, as I believe this is in the best interest of the Club, the fans, the employees, as well as the Club’s sponsors and partners.

“The sale of the Club will not be fast-tracked but will follow due process. I will not be asking for any loans to be repaid. This has never been about business nor money for me, but about pure passion for the game and Club. Moreover, I have instructed my team to set up a charitable foundation where all net proceeds from the sale will be donated. The foundation will be for the benefit of all victims of the war in Ukraine. This includes providing critical funds towards the urgent and immediate needs of victims, as well as supporting the long-term work of recovery.

“Please know that this has been an incredibly difficult decision to make, and it pains me to part with the Club in this manner. However, I do believe this is in the best interest of the Club.

“I hope that I will be able to visit Stamford Bridge one last time to say goodbye to all of you in person. It has been a privilege of a lifetime to be part of Chelsea FC and I am proud of all our joint achievements. Chelsea Football Club and its supporters will always be in my heart.”

Impact of Russia invasion on coaches and players

Closer to the warzone, foreign players and coaches in Ukraine have fled the country via neighboring nations such as Romania, Poland and Moldova with Shakhtar Donetsk and Dynamo Kyiv’s non-domestic contingents facing uncertain futures with soccer officially on hold but not coming back anytime soon.

Brazilian players back on home soil: Shakhtar have been delocalized to Kyiv since war broke out in Donbas back in 2014 but have continued to maintain a strong Brazilian link and their South Americans, along with Dynamo’s, have since managed to return home.

“We want to thank for the assistance everyone who took part in this process,” Shakhtar put on record. “The evacuation of the players was made possible thanks to the personal assistance of UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin, the Ukrainian Football Association President Andrii Pavelko and the Moldovan Football Federation President Leonid Oleinichenko.”

Coaches return home: Roberto De Zerbi and Mircea Lucescu, respective head coaches of Shakhtar and Dynamo, only returned to their homes in Italy and Romania once their players were on their way to safety while German Markus Gisdol has left Russians Lokomotiv Moscow in disgust.

“Being a football coach is the best job in the world, but I cannot pursue my vocation in a country whose leader is responsible for a war of aggression in the middle of Europe,” he told Bild. “That is not in line with my values. I cannot stand on the training ground in Moscow and a few kilometers away orders are given that bring great suffering to an entire nation. This is my personal decision, and I am absolutely convinced of that.”

Sheriff coach goes to war: In the case of Yuriy Vernydub, who led minnows Sheriff Tiraspol to a famous Champions League win away at Real Madrid just a few months ago, the 56-year-old Ukrainian has taken up arms in his homeland to defend it against their aggressors from Russia with player Gustavo Dulanto praying for his safety.

Rakitskiy and Zenit spearate: Ukraine international Yaroslav Rakitskiy has mutually terminated his contract with Russian club Zenit Saint Petersburg. The 32-year-old is a controversial figure having opted to leave Shakhtar Donetsk for Zenit during the Donbas war. Renowned former Ukraine international Anatoliy Tymoshchuk is also assistant to ex-Russia international Sergei Semak and remains in his post at present.

“Yaroslav Rakitskiy requested an early end to his contract and this has been agreed by the club,” read Zenit’s statement. “He joined Zenit in January 2019 and played 108 matches, scored seven goals and made 15 assists as a blue-white-sky blue player. While in St. Petersburg he won three league titles, the Russian Cup and two Super Cups.

“The club and our supporters wish to thank Yaroslav Rakitskiy for his time here and recognize the professionalism and passion he displayed while with us. We sincerely wish the best to Yaroslav, his friends and his family.”

Further developments are expected on this front with unconfirmed reports that foreign players will be leaving many Russian clubs shortly.

Olympics

In competition terms, the International Olympic Committee’s executive board has recommended that Russian and Belarusian athletes are suspended from competing in events with the 2022 World Cup coming up later this year with Russia one of the nations in the qualifying draw.

“We are committed to fair competitions for everybody without any discrimination,” read a statement. “The current war in Ukraine, however, puts the Olympic Movement in a dilemma. While athletes from Russia and Belarus would be able to continue to participate in sports events, many athletes from Ukraine are prevented from doing so because of the attack on their country. This is a dilemma which cannot be solved. The IOC EB has therefore today carefully considered the situation and, with a heavy heart, issued the following resolution.”

World Cup

FIFA and UEFA have both suspended the Russian team after briefly adopting neutral flags and venues with no spectators nor national anthem while Poland, Sweden and Czech Republic refused to compete against the aggressors.

FIFA and UEFA will need to work together to adjust the playoff qualifying bracket with games set for March 24. With the removal of Russia, Poland could be awarded a bye to face the winner Sweden-Czech Republic. Another option could include adding Hungary based on their performance in the Nations League as they were the next most successful of these nations after Austria and the Czech Republic.

Meanwhile, EA Sports have confirmed that the popular soccer video game in FIFA’s name is removing all Russian clubs and the national team from its products while the developers are “actively evaluating related changes to other areas of our games” in light of recent developments.

“In line with our partners at FIFA and UEFA,” read a statement. “EA Sports has initiated processes to remove the Russian national team and all Russian clubs from EA Sports FIFA products including: FIFA 22, FIFA Mobile and FIFA Online.”

UEFA

Europa League and Women’s Euros impacted: This extends beyond the World Cup with Spartak eliminated from the Europa League which means that RB Leipzig will advance to the quarterfinals with a bye — a decision which has not been treated kindly by federation nor club — and Russia’s women who are excluded from this summer’s Euros.

“The decision to exclude our team from Europa League is upsetting,” tweeted Spartak’s official English language account. “We believe that sport, even in the most difficult times, should aim to build bridges, and not burn them. We will focus on domestic competitions and hope for a speedy achievement of peace that everybody needs.”

Belarus: Due to Alexander Lukashenko’s status as a close ally of Vladimir Putin, Belarusian clubs and national teams must now play their home matches in UEFA competitions at neutral venues. No spectators can attend when Belarusian teams are the host.

UCL final moved to Paris: The Champions League final, which was due to be held at Gazprom Arena in Saint Petersburg, has also been stripped and moved to Stade de France in the Parisian suburb of Saint-Denis after the intervention of French president Emmanuel Macron.





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