The entire world of football did not stand still to watch Putin and Russia's havoc against Ukraine last week. The war that began in Kiev has also had consequences for European football. The upper echelons of Fifa and Uefa have mobilized together to block the initiative taken to have the Champions League final played in Russia in the month of may.
European soccer’s governing body on Friday voted to move this season’s Champions League final, the showcase game on the continent’s sporting calendar, to Paris as punishment for Russia's invasion of Ukraine
The game, on May 28, had been scheduled to be played in St. Petersburg, in a stadium built for 2018 World Cup and financed by the Russian energy giant Gazprom, a major sponsor of the governing body, UEFA. It will take place instead at the Stade de France, in the northern Paris suburb of Saint-Denis. It will be the first time France has hosted the final since 2006.
The UEFA president, Aleksander Ceferin, traveled to the French capital on Thursday to meet with France’s president, Emmanuel Macron, to finalize the agreement.
It will be the third straight year the Champions League final has had to be relocated, with the two most recent editions shifted to Portugal because of coronavirus concerns.
The final in Paris also will be the first time since the outbreak of the coronavirus that the game will be played in a full stadium. The 2020 final was played without spectators as part of a so-called bubble environment created to finish the competition’s remaining games, while last year restrictions meant only a quarter of the Dragão stadium in Porto was allowed to be populated.
UEFA said it had made the decision as a result of “the grave escalation of the security situation in Europe.”
UEFA also said it would relocate any games in tournaments it controls that were to be played in Russia and Ukraine, whether involving clubs or national teams, “until further notice.”
At the moment, that affects only a single club match: Spartak Moscow’s next home game in the second-tier Europa League. But UEFA’s move to punish Russia will put new pressure on world soccer’s governing body, FIFA, to move a World Cup qualifying match set for Moscow next month.
Indeed yesterday the Spartak Mosocow’s upcoming opponents RB Leipzig said they were pressing for greater action from the governing body.
“RB Leipzig is currently in intensive discussions with UEFA on the further course of action for the Europa League knockout-round matches against Spartak Moscow and expects a timely decision by the association,” the club said.
Contrary to the decision taken in the European field, with the final of champions moved, FIFA has instead decided that Russia will be able to partecipate in the playoffs for the World Cup
Under a series of “initial measures” agreed by the Fifa council on Sunday, next month’s World Cup play-off between Russia and Poland will go ahead but at a neutral venue and with no spectators. Russia will also be forced to go by the name “Football Union of Russia (RFU)” in an echo of the punishment imposed on the country at the Olympics. No Russian flag will be flown either, nor will the anthem be played.
In a statement FIFA said they would be willing to consider further actions, including expulsion from the World Cup, should “the situation not be improving rapidly”. They said they had already “been in dialogue” with the Polish FA about the match, having “taken good note of the positions expressed via social media”.
But Fifa’s proposal was immediately rejected by the Polish football authorities, who earlier this weekend had declared their determination to boycott any fixture with Russia, a sentiment shared by individual players including star striker Robert Lewandowski. The Poles were then joined in a boycott by Sweden and the Czech Republic, one of whom are scheduled to meet the winner of that tie in a play-off final.
The president of the Polish FA, Cezary Kulesza, described Fifa’s decision as “unacceptable”.
“In the situation of war in Ukraine, we are not interested in the game of appearances,” he said. “Our position remains unchanged: the national team Polish will NOT play against Russia in the play-off match, regardless of the name of the Russian team.”
The Polish FA also took the step of writing formally to Fifa to reject the measures and call for Russia to be expelled from the World Cup.
“The Polish Football Association inform that as a result of the brutal aggression of the Russian Federation against Ukraine and the war that continues there, we do not see any possibility of competing with the Russian national team in play-off matches for promotion to the World Cup in Qatar in 2022 regardless of the name of the team consisting of Russian footballers and the place of the match”, the letter read. ''In the face of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, which was condemned almost all over the world, this is the only decision we can make''.
A performance in a match against the Russian national team would be a shameful act not just for our players but for the entire football community, contrary to solidarity with the Ukrainian nation. As football association, we refuse to participate in play-off matches in which the Russian national team appears.
“At the same time, we call on the Fifa authorities to react immediately to the brutal violence that we observe daily on the territory of independent Ukraine. If Fifa’s Human Rights Policy is more than just words on a paper now is the time to put it into practice by excluding the Russian Football Association from the qualifiers for the World Cup in Qatar in 2022.”
On Sunday England joined that group. In an intervention made less than an hour before Fifa published their conditions, the Football Association said they would not play any international fixtures against Russia at any level “for the foreseeable future”.
“Out of solidarity with the Ukraine and to wholeheartedly condemn the atrocities being committed by the Russian leadership, the FA can confirm that we won’t play Russia in any international fixtures for the forseeable future,” read a statement on Sunday evening. “This includes any potential match at any level of senior, age group or para football.”
Earlier this weekend, each of Russia’s possible play-off opponents confirmed that they would refuse to fulfil the fixture. Poland and Sweden were joined on Sunday by the Czech Republic who said both officials and staff had agreed they would not play. “It’s not possible to play against the Russian national team in the current situation, not even on the neutral venue”, the Czech FA said, “We all want the war to end as soon as possible.”
World champions France also said they supported the expulsion of Russia from international football, with Noël Le Graët – president of the French Football Federation – saying the sport “cannot remain neutral” following the invasion of Ukraine. “The world of sport, and especially football, cannot remain neutral. I certainly would not oppose the expulsion of Russia,” Le Graët told the French newspaper Le Parisien.
As yet, Fifa has taken no action regarding the upcoming World Cup play-offs, due to be held next month, nor the possibility of Russia qualifying for the final tournament itself. In a statement last week, the world governing body would say only that it continued “to monitor the situation” and that “updates … will be communicated in due course”.
Moreover this football weekend also gave way to demonstrations of affection towards Ukrainian players who were shocked by the war that broke out in their country.
In the Premier League the image of Manchester city full-back Zinchencko in tears during the match against Everton was very moving. As well as it is also beautiful all the affection of West Ham and its fans at the home stadium for Yarmolenko, not called up by the coach because he is still shaken.
Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola thanked the Everton fans for their support for Ukraine at the start of the match: "What a moment," commented the Catalan coach, "thank you very much to everyone. Zinchenko was very happy, what people want to express matters a lot’’.
West Ham manager Moyes, on the other hand, expressed these words towards Yarmolenko: "I had spoken to Andriy and he is upset. It is a really difficult time for him and his family, we respect him and we have given him a few days of rest."
Also Manchester United taken an important decision last week.
Manchester United broke their sponsorship deal with Russian airline Aeroflot against the backdrop of the Russian Federation's military operation in Ukraine. "In light of the events in Ukraine, we have withdrawn Aeroflot's sponsorship rights. We share the concern of our members. fans around the world and we express our condolences to the victims, " the club's website read in a statement.
The sponsorship agreement between Aeroflot and Manchester United was signed in 2013 and extended for another five years in 2018. Prior to this, Turkish Airlines was the official carrier of the British club.
Moreover at Chelsea's home, there is an air of great changes. Russian billionaire Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich suddenly handed direct control and management of the Premier League club to the trustees of his charitable foundation. The move came after a British member of parliament asked the billionaire to hand over the club in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Abramovich's step backwards probably stems from the fear that the announcement by the British government, similar to that of the European Union, to freeze the assets abroad of Putin and leading exponents of the government could also affect the oligarchs linked to the Russian president , in a subsequent wave of new sanctions.
Flying to Italy, specifically to Bergamo instead, we have to talk about how viral the image taken by Ruslan Malinovski was. After two goals scored against Olympiakos, the Ukrainian footballer raised his Atalanta shirt to show an important message: ‘’NO WAR IN UKRAINE’’
Once again, football has proved itself not only as a sport but also as a union of several nations and peoples towards a single good, peace
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