Russia invasion of Ukraine takes its toll on international sports

Russia invasion of Ukraine takes its toll on international sports
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Russia’s invasion of Ukraine was widely condemned by the sporting community on Thursday, with President Vladimir Putin’s country set to lose hosting rights for the Champions League final while Formula One drivers said it was “wrong” to race there this year.

Russia launched an all-out invasion of Ukraine by land, sea and air on Thursday, sparking immediate sporting ramifications.

The Champions League final is scheduled to be held in St Petersburg in May but sources have told Reuters that European soccer governing body UEFA are set to move the match to another venue. UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin has called an extraordinary meeting of the Executive Committee on Friday when the issue will be discussed.

The showcase match in European club football was set to be held at Zenit St Petersburg’s stadium — known as the Gazprom Arena after a sponsorship deal with Russia’s state energy company, which also sponsors the Champions League.

German soccer club Schalke 04 have had a 15-year partnership with Gazprom but said it was removing the firm’s logo from their jersey while Matthias Warnig, the chief executive of Nord Stream 2 AG, vacated his position on the club’s board of directors. Nord Stream 2 AG are owned by Gazprom.

Athletes from a number of sports also voiced their concerns about travelling to Russia.

Four-times Formula One champion Sebastian Vettel said he will not race at September’s grand prix in Sochi, adding it was “wrong” to race in Russia. Reigning champion Max Verstappen agreed with him. 

“My own opinion is I should not go,” Vettel said. “I’m sorry for the innocent people that are losing their lives, that are getting killed for stupid reasons and a very, very strange and mad leadership.”

The sport’s governing body, like many others, said it was monitoring the situation, but said nothing about a potential move of the Russian Grand Prix.

The invasion was also condemned by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) who said the Russian government had breached the Olympic Truce currently in effect until after next month’s Winter Paralympic Games. 

MILITARY ESCALATION

A joint statement from the football associations of Poland, Sweden and the Czech Republic called for next month’s World Cup playoffs not be played in Russia.

“The signatories to this appeal do not consider travelling to Russia and playing football matches there,” the statement said. “The military escalation that we are observing entails serious consequences and considerably lower safety for our national football teams and official delegations.

“Therefore, we expect FIFA and UEFA to react immediately and to present alternative solutions regarding places where these approaching playoff matches could be played.”

Poland are due to play in Russia on March 24 with the winners hosting either Sweden or the Czechs five days later.

EuroLeague Basketball, which has teams from several countries including Russia, said they would continue with the competition as scheduled unless governmental decisions prevent games from taking place.

“The 18 EuroLeague participating clubs will meet tomorrow to further analyse the course of events and take any necessary actions, if needed,” it said on Thursday.

However, Bayern Munich said Thursday’s EuroLeague match against CSKA Moscow was postponed at short notice.

The Swedish Ski Association said it was “completely unthinkable” to participate in any competitions in Russia, including the upcoming ski cross World Cup event.

“We have a ski cross national team in place in Russia right now and the safety of our athletes and coaches is the most important thing,” its chairman Karin Mattsson said.

The invasion has also impacted sporting events in Ukraine.

Soccer matches in Ukraine’s Premier League have been suspended due to the imposition of martial law in the country, leaving Shakhtar Donetsk’s Italian coach Roberto De Zerbi, his staff and 13 Brazilian players stranded.

“We could have gone home as long as there was security but instead we waited. Last night the explosions woke us up. This morning they suspended the season,” De Zerbi told Italpress.

“We saw rows of moving cars from our hotel windows – I think they’re headed to Poland. The Italian embassy urged us to leave but I couldn’t do it, eventually they closed the airspace and we’ll be staying here.”

Brazilian-born Ukrainian forward Junior Moraes said they were “prisoners in Kiev” while waiting for a solution to get out of the country. “Pray for us,” he wrote on Instagram.

-Reuters

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