UEFA has called an extraordinary meeting of its executive committee for Friday to discuss the deepening crisis between Russia and Ukraine.
European football’s governing body is set to move the final of this season’s Champions League, which is due to take place in Saint Petersburg’s Krestovsky Stadium, after Russia stepped up its campaign against its neighbor with a full scale military attack on Ukraine in the early hours of Thursday morning.
Missiles have reportedly landed close to several major Ukrainian cities, including the capital Kyiv, prompting further outcry from the international community. The United States is among those nations who have confirmed that they will issue sanctions against Russia, the Vladimir Putin regime and his allies; the details of America’s package will be announced later on Thursday. In such circumstances, it is inevitable that the venue of European football’s showpiece match will move.
“Following the evolution of the situation between Russia and Ukraine in the last 24 hours, the UEFA President has decided to call an extraordinary meeting of the Executive Committee for Friday 25 February at 10:00 CET, in order to evaluate the situation and take all necessary decisions,” said a statement. “Further communication will be made after the meeting of the UEFA Executive Committee.”
CBS Sports sources confirm that UEFA is drawing up contingency plans for alternative venues, though a specific replacement may not be selected until later in the Champions League tournament when it becomes clearer which countries will potentially be involved in the final. London has been intimated as a possible host city and West Ham’s 60,000 capacity home stadium has intimated it would be interested in holding the final, which has involved five English teams in the last four years. Wembley Stadium and Tottenham Hotspur Stadium are both currently in use.
The Champions League final is not the only matter UEFA must address. Russia are due to host Poland in a World Cup qualifier on March 24, if they won that they would also play at home to the winner of the match between Sweden and the Czech Republic. Real Betis are due to play Russian side Zenit Saint Petersburg in a Europa League qualifier on Thursday.
Zenit and Spartak Moscow, who will be in the hat for the Europa League last 16, are the last remaining Russian representatives in European competition this season. No Ukrainian sides qualified for the latter stages of UEFA’s three competitions. Ukraine’s domestic league was due to resume this weekend but has been suspended in light of the conflict.
Questions have also been raised about UEFA’s involvement with Gazprom. The majority state-owned energy company has sponsored the Champions League since 2012, adverts for the company have been a staple of match broadcasts ever since. The deal is reported to be worth $45 million a year.
Politicians in the European Parliament have called for that association to end, saying in an open letter: “We call on you to stop considering Saint Petersburg and other Russian cities as venues for international football competitions and to choose as a first and very urgent step an alternative venue for the Champions League final on May 28, 2022.
“In addition, we appeal to you to convene a special meeting of the UEFA Executive Committee, to terminate cooperation with Gazprom as UEFA sponsor and to consider sanctions against individual Russian officials who are complicit in the violation of international law.”