Manchester United and Watford urge peace and Aston Villa star's tribute as Russia attacks Ukraine
Footballers are using their vast platforms to call for peace and show solidarity with Ukraine as Russia attacks.
Manchester United and Watford joined together on the pitch ahead of their Premier League match at Old Trafford to take a stand on Saturday.
The footballers stood shoulder-to-shoulder with Man U's interim manager and former boss of Russia's Lokomotiv Moscow, Ralf Rangnick, alongside a banner reading "peace" in six different languages.
The sides are the latest sports stars to explicitly acknowledge the conflict, as world sport faces widespread calls to ban Russian teams and athletes in order to sanction President Vladimir Putin.
Fans were touched by a scene of Ukrainian players and Premier League rivals Oleksandr Zinchenko (Manchester City) and Vitali Mykolenko (Everton) sharing a moment together at Goodison Park's pitch on Saturday night.
And Aston Villa player Matty Cash celebrated scoring his side's first goal of the game by rolling up his kit to reveal a t-shirt supporting Poland team-mate Tomasz Kedziora during an earlier match in Brighton.
Kedziora plays for Dynamo Kiev and has remained in the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, during Russia's assault on the city.
Zinchenko was seen attending an anti-war vigil in St Peter's Square in Manchester on Friday night.
Earlier, West Ham's Ukrainian winger Andriy Yarmolenko tweeted: "Pray for Ukraine" along with a hashtag reading "no war".
How is FIFA reacting to the crisis?
The players' advocacy comes as FIFA is facing growing calls to take decisive action against Russia following the country’s invasion of Ukraine.
The world governing body issued a statement on Thursday saying it would “continue to monitor the situation” and issue an update “in due course”.
FIFA has since come under pressure with Poland’s football association and players announcing on Saturday they would be boycotting next month’s World Cup qualifier against Russia.
Sweden, who could face Russia in the next round of the play-offs, then also said they would refuse to play the match, with the nation’s football federation calling on FIFA to cancel Russia’s matches.
“The federal board also urges FIFA to cancel the play-off matches in March in which Russia participates,” a statement said.
This came after European counterpart UEFA took a decision on Friday to move the Champions League final from St Petersburg to Paris, while other sports, notably Formula One, have also moved to cut ties with Russia.
Former England striker Gary Lineker believes FIFA needs to make a strong statement and bar Russia from competing in this year’s tournament in Qatar.
Lineker tweeted: “If FIFA gives the World Cup qualifier to Poland and throws out Russia (unless, of course, they pull out of Ukraine), it would send a powerful and meaningful message.”
He added: “Come on FIFA do what’s right.”
On the statement issued by Poland’s players in which they stated their refusal to play against Russia, Lineker tweeted: “Proud of how footballers are once again standing up for what is right.
All eyes on Abramovich's Chelsea
On Saturday, Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich said he is to hand over "the stewardship and care” of the club to its trustees. Russian billionaire Abramovich has been the subject of discussion in the UK Parliament and beyond, with a number of Russian oligarchs and companies facing UK sanctions amid the invasion of Ukraine.
Abramovich will remain as Chelsea's owner, but will not be involved in any decision-making at the Stamford Bridge club.
It is understood Abramovich took the decision in order to protect Chelsea from continual links to Russia's invasion.
Before Abramovich announced this move, Chelsea head coach Thomas Tuchel insisted Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has clouded minds at the club.
But the Blues’ German coach did admit no one at Chelsea will turn away from an “unthinkable” war in Europe.
“We should not pretend this is not an issue,” said Tuchel, as he said his thoughts were with families affected by the conflict.
“But I think it’s also the right from the team, the staff, and I include myself, to be maybe not political, to do sports and to focus on sports.
“Not because we are hiding, the situation is clear, it’s horrible, there’s no doubt about it. That’s pretty much it."