How Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has impacted sport

Saint Petersburg has lost the Champions League final and the F1 Russian GP has been cancelled

Gazprom Arena in Saint Petersburg will not host the 2022 Champions League final
Gazprom Arena in Saint Petersburg will not host the 2022 Champions League final
(Image credit: Alexander Demianchuk/TASS via Getty Images)

It’s not just the stock markets and oil prices that have been affected by the Russian invasion of Ukraine, but also the sports industry.

Following Vladimir Putin’s announcement of military action, Russia is “facing expulsion on all major sporting fronts” due to the fallout, the Irish Independent said. And sporting bodies across Europe are taking “guidance” from national governments in the wake of the invasion.

Here we break down how the invasion has impacted sport in both countries and what it means for the hosting of major sporting events.

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Uefa Champions League final

St Petersburg was scheduled to host the 2022 Uefa Champions League final on Saturday 28 May. But following an emergency meeting, European football’s governing body has confirmed that the match will now be played at the Stade de France in Paris.

The final was due to be held at the Krestovsky Stadium – which is known as the “Gazprom Arena” due to a title sponsorship deal with the Russian energy giant. The 68,000-capacity stadium in Putin’s home city also hosted matches at the 2018 Fifa World Cup and Uefa’s Euro 2020 tournament.

Russian Football Union (RFU) president Alexander Dyukov said he “could not support” the move, the BBC reported. Dyukov, who serves on Uefa’s executive committee and is CEO of Gazprom subsidiary Gazprom Neft, added: “We believe the decision was dictated by political reasons. The RFU has always adhered to the principle of ‘sport is out of politics’.”

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said it was a “shame” that such a decision has been made. “St Petersburg could have provided all favourable conditions to hold this festival of soccer,” he told reporters.

It is the “third year running” the Champions League final venue has been moved, the BBC said. The 2020 and 2021 finals were switched because of the pandemic.

Sponsorship deals: Gazprom and Aeroflot

Russian energy firm Gazprom is a major sponsor of European football, including the Uefa Champions League. Uefa is facing “mounting pressure” to terminate the ties it has with the firm, the FT said.

German club Schalke 04 have also moved to cut ties with Gazprom. Schalke, one of Germany’s biggest football teams, have removed the name of sponsors Gazprom from their shirts.

In England, Premier League giants Manchester United have terminated the sponsorship agreement it had with Russian airline Aeroflot. As part of Russian sanctions, Aeroflot has been banned from trading in the UK, the Daily Express reported. In a statement United said: “In light of events in Ukraine, we have withdrawn Aeroflot’s sponsorship rights. We share the concerns of our fans around the world and extend our sympathies to those affected.”

Football in Ukraine and Russia

Ukraine’s domestic football league was meant to restart today after the post-winter break. But now matches have been paused for a minimum of 30 days. “After the imposition of martial law in Ukraine, the championship draw has been suspended,” the league said in a statement.

Dynamo Kyiv, one of Ukraine’s biggest clubs, “proclaimed their resistance” to the invasion, the Irish Independent said. “We are on our land, and we will not give it to anyone,” the club stated. “For us – the truth, for us victory! We will definitely win, and Ukrainians from Uzhgorod to Lugansk, from Chernihiv to Sevastopol will be proud that they are citizens of a great state called Ukraine.”

Uefa also confirmed that Russian and Ukrainian clubs and national teams competing in Uefa competitions will be required to play their home matches at neutral venues until further notice, Sky Sports reported. Spartak Moscow will be affected as they are still in the Europa League, where they play RB Leipzig over two legs in the round of 16 next month.

The Formula 1 Russian Grand Prix takes place at the Sochi Autodrom in Sochi

The F1 Russian Grand Prix takes place at the Sochi Autodrom
(Image credit: Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

F1: Russian GP and Nikita Mazepin

This year’s Formula 1 Russian Grand Prix, which was scheduled to take place at the Sochi Autodrom on 25 September, has been cancelled. F1 said it was “impossible” to hold the Russian GP in the current circumstances.

F1 has made “no suggestion” of which country might replace Russia on the 2022 calendar, The Guardian said. Turkey has been mooted as a possible location, but F1 is “understood to not be considering the Istanbul Park Circuit as an option this time”.

There’s also “uncertainty” surrounding the Haas F1 Team, The Race said. Haas has removed the branding of its title sponsor Uralkali and team principal Guenther Steiner has admitted that the position of Russian driver ​​Nikita Mazepin “needs to be resolved”.

Mazepin is the son of major Uralkali shareholder Dmitry Mazepin – a close associate of Putin. At pre-season testing today in Barcelona, he will drive the Haas VF-22 car which will go out on track with a plain white livery, minus Uralkali branding.

Invasions and the Olympics

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine comes just a few days after the end of the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic Games. Many thought the Russians would not take any action until after the games were over – and that was “to avoid upstaging China”, said ​​NPR’s Frank Langfitt.

The “distraction” of the Olympic Games has “been an ingredient” in Putin’s aggressive foreign policy in recent years, said Tim Fernholz on Quartz. “In other words, it’s a great time to invade somewhere else.”

There’s certainly “some history” involving Russia’s military action and the Olympics, CNN reported ahead of Beijing 2022. When Russia annexed Crimea in 2014, it occurred just as the Winter Olympics in Sochi were wrapping up and in 2008 Russia invaded Georgia when the Summer Olympics were happening.

Putin has spent three of the last eight Olympic Games either “invading a country or coming awfully close to doing so”, said Michael Rosenberg on Sports Illustrated. The timing in Ukraine was “probably coincidental” – it is hard to believe Putin would think the world would let him invade a country because it is “so distracted by the bobsled, or if you prefer: the bobsleigh”. Rosenberg added: “This does not bode well for my book proposal, The Art of War During Bobsled/Bobsleigh”.

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