Russia facing widespread fallout as sports world condemns invasion of Ukraine

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine was 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 UEFA, European soccer’s governing body, is 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 game in European club soccer 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 they were removing the firm’s logo from their jersey while Matthias Warnig, chief executive of Nord Stream 2 AG, vacated his position on the club’s board of directors. Nord Stream 2 AG is owned by Gazprom.

“We are dealing with this situation with the utmost seriousness and urgency,” UEFA said in a statement. “Decisions will be taken by the UEFA Executive Committee and announced tomorrow.”

A group of European lawmakers wrote to UEFA on Thursday, asking it to change the venue and to stop considering Russian cities for international soccer competitions.

“UEFA shares the international community’s significant concern for the security situation developing in Europe and strongly condemns the ongoing Russian military invasion in Ukraine,” the organization said. “We remain resolute in our solidarity with the football community in Ukraine and stand ready to extend our hand to the Ukrainian people.”

The governing body of men’s tennis said next week’s ATP Challenger event in Moscow will not take place as scheduled due to concerns over player safety and uncertainty related to international travel.

“The security of players will remain our top priority in assessing the scheduling of subsequent ATP Tour and ATP Challenger Tour events in the region. We continue to monitor the situation,” the ATP said in a statement to Reuters.

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

Four-time Formula One champion Sebastian Vettel said he will not take part in September’s Grand Prix in Sochi, adding it was “wrong” to race in Russia. World 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 said it was monitoring the situation, but said nothing about potentially moving the Russian Grand Prix.

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

“The International Olympic Committee strongly condemns the breach of the Olympic Truce by the Russian government,” it said in a statement.

“The respective UN (United Nations) resolution was adopted by the UN General Assembly on 2 December 2021 by consensus of all 193 UN Member States.” The resolution calls on member states to cooperate with the IOC and the International Paralympic Committee “to use sport as a tool to promote peace, dialogue and reconciliation.” The IOC said president Thomas Bach had reiterated his call for peace.

A joint statement from the soccer 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.

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

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

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

Bayern Munich said its EuroLeague match against CSKA Moscow had been postponed at short notice.

World Athletics condemned the Russian invasion and said president Sebastian Coe had contacted senior vice president Sergey Bubka and the Ukrainian Athletics Federation to offer support.

“We continue to monitor the situation carefully, but there is no reason to believe this will affect plans for the World Athletics Race Walking Team Championships Muscat 22 or the World Athletics Indoor Championships Belgrade 22,” World Athletics said.

The invasion has also impacted sporting events in Ukraine.

Soccer matches in the country’s Premier League have been suspended due to the imposition of martial law, 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.

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.

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