UEFA to strip St Petersburg of Champions League final and F1 considering Russia race after invasion

Gazprom Stadium in St Petersburg where this season’s Champions League final was due to be played. Credit: PA

UEFA will confirm on Friday morning that it will strip the prestigious Champions League final from St Petersburg due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

In a surprisingly strong statement from football's governing body, UEFA said it "shares the international community’s significant concern for the security situation developing in Europe and strongly condemns the ongoing Russian military invasion in Ukraine".

It concluded: ”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.” 

The match was due to take place on May 28 at the Gazprom Arena, named after the state-controlled gas giant which also sponsors the competition itself. It’s believed Gazprom pays UEFA  €40 million (£33.4 million) a year as part of the deal, and the company’s name has been prominent on pitch-side advertising during this season’s competition. 

It is likely that relationship will also be discussed at Friday’s emergency UEFA meeting.

The logo of Russian state-owned Gazprom is being removed from the jerseys of German team Schalke following Moscow’s attack on Ukraine. Credit: AP

Gazprom also sponsors UEFA’s Super Cup and two clubs: Zenit St Petersburg and FC Schalke 04 in Germany. Schalke announced on Thursday it would not be wearing Gazprom’s front of shirt logo anymore, given the day's developments.

Why has Russia invaded Ukraine? Can Putin be stopped? And how far could the conflict escalate? Listen to our Ukraine Q&A podcast

Other sports with Russian partnerships are slowly starting to react. Formula 1 is due to hold a Grand Prix in Sochi in September but that now looks in jeopardy, and F1 teams called an urgent meeting to discuss that on Thursday evening. The sport’s only official comment was: “Formula 1 is closely watching the very fluid developments like many others and at this time has no further comment on the race scheduled for September. We will continue to monitor the situation very closely.”

However, four times world champion Sebastian Vettel has already said he will not go to Russia for the race, while current champion, Max Verstappen commented that when a country is at war, it is not right to race there.

Russia’s team during the opening ceremony of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. Credit: AP

Elsewhere, the Czech, Polish and Swedish football associations have now told Fifa they don't want to go to Russia for their upcoming World Cup qualifiers - and it is impossible to see how Fifa could resist that request.

The International Volleyball Federation (FIVB) which, among other tournaments, is due to hold the men’s world championships across 10 Russian cities at the end of August, released the following statement: “The FIVB is working in close collaboration with the Russian Volleyball Federation and Organising Committee Volleyball 2022 in preparation for various volleyball and beach volleyball events set to be held in the country which are progressing as planned.

“While the FIVB believes that sport should always remain separate from politics, we are closely monitoring the situation to ensure the safety and wellbeing of all participants at our events which is our top priority.”

It is likely that position will harden in the weeks ahead.

Vladimir Putin has always considered sport a useful gateway to soft power; hosting the Sochi Winter Olympics and of course the football World Cup three years ago is evidence of that.

But losing one Champions League final and a Grand Prix while making the West feel better, is not going to cause Russia’s President to lose a moment’s sleep.