Football fallout from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine: Explaining what might be next for FIFA & UEFA after Champions League final switch

UEFA has taken the decision to move the 2022 Champions League final from Saint Petersburg, Russia to an alternative venue following the country’s invasion of Ukraine.

The decision from the European governing body came after an emergency meeting of its executive committee, as the sporting world continues to react to the military action launched by Vladimir Putin’s regime.

But the repercussions on other competitions are already being felt, and world governing body FIFA has also had to step in.

Here’s a recap of the actions taken so far with potential new issues to be tackled by the football authorities.

Russia invasion of Ukraine forces UEFA action

The action by UEFA didn’t stop at stripping the Russian city of Saint Petersburg of the hosting rights for the 2022 Champions League final. (The Stade de France in Saint-Denis — a northern suburb of Paris — is the new host of the May 28 championship game.)

The Russian Football Union president disagreed with the move and a Kremlin spokesperson spokesperson called it “a shame that such a decision has been made,” but UEFA have taken additional steps. The executive committee will also force the lone Russian club still involved in European club competition to find a neutral venue for its matches.

Spartak Moscow is the last Russian or Ukrainian club still involved in a European club tournament — in the Round of 16 of the UEFA Europa League — and it was drawn to play Germany’s RB Leipzig. But Spartak will have to play the March 17 home leg of that series at a neutral venue after the UEFA executive committee ruling.

The decision was all-encompassing of all Russian and Ukrainian clubs still involved in European competition, but in practice it only applies to Spartak which “will be required to play their home matches at neutral venues until further notice,” per the statement released by UEFA.

Russia & Ukraine World Cup qualifiers

The UEFA decision to ask club teams involved in international competition to find a neutral venue also extends to “national teams competing in UEFA competitions.” 

The UEFA Nations League is such a competition with matches to be held in June 2022. Ukraine is scheduled to play four matches, including two home games against Armenia (June 11) and the Republic of Ireland (June 14). Russia’s foursome of matches during that window includes home matches games against Iceland (June 10) and Albania (June 13).

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But the national teams of both countries will also be involved in March’s European playoffs for the remaining tickets to the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar. Those are technically a FIFA competition and FIFA has indicated that “updates in relation to the upcoming FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 qualifiers will be communicated in due course.”

If they want to advance to the 2022 World Cup, both Russia and Ukraine have to win two matches scheduled for late March. Should they lose any one of them, they will be eliminated from contention from Qatar 2022.

Ukraine was already scheduled to play both those matches on the road — a win in Scotland (March 24) would see it face Wales or Austria on the road (March 29) for a World Cup berth. Russia was scheduled to host both of its matches: against Poland (March 24) and in case of a win, a potential second match against the Czech Republic or Sweden (March 29).

It still remains to be seen whether Russia and Ukraine will even be position to field teams for these matches.  Poland has already made it clear that it will not take the field against Russia and its star forward, Robert Lewandowski, made his nation’s stance clear:

Latest on Russia Premier League, Ukraine Premier League

Unsurprisingly, the conflict has had a very significant impact on football throughout the areas of Ukraine and Russia.

The Ukrainian Premier League, which was set to resume on Feb. 25 after a winter break has been suspended until further notice, as the country is in a state of martial law owing to recent developments.

But the suspension does not only apply to the Ukrainian top flight. Ukraine’s football federation has made the decision to “suspended all football competitions at the national, regional, district and city levels in all age categories throughout Ukraine until a separate decision is made on this issue.”

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Meanwhile, the Russian Premier League is continuing as scheduled with the official league site confirming the slate of weekend matches on Feb. 26-28. That list includes two postponements though no official reasons were given for the changes. Some have indicated it could have to do with the closure of the local airports in those cities.

The Russian league is also returning from a winter break.

Ukraine wants ban of Russia and Russian club teams

Ukraine’s football authorities want to see more action from the governing bodies against Russia and Russian clubs.

The Ukrainian federation released a recent communication detailing some imminent measures they would like to see put into place. 

The UAF Executive Committee has advocated for the Russian national team and its club sides to be banned from taking part in any footballing competition under the banner of FIFA or UEFA.

Given the military aggression of the Russian Federation against Ukraine, the UAF Executive Committee decided:

– to send to FIFA and UEFA appropriate appeals prohibiting the participation of national teams and clubs of Russia to participate in any international competitions under the auspices of FIFA and UEFA;

– send an appeal to UEFA regarding the decision as soon as possible to change the city and country of the UEFA Champions League final of the 2021/2022 season and the UEFA Super Cup-2023.

Russian sponsors facing backlash

Two Russian companies in particular have come under the microscope: Russian energy corporation Gazprom and Russian airline Aeroflot.

In addition to seeing German club Schalke remove Gazprom’s jersey front branding in response to Russia’s invasion, UEFA is also facing pressure to nix their sponsorship deal with the company, including from European Parliament members.

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Gazprom owns partnership rights for the upcoming UEFA Nations League 2023 and UEFA Euro 2024 tournaments, as well as being a prominent sponsor of the UEFA Champions League since 2012.

Meanwhile, the UK government has moved to ban Aeroflot from operating in its territories, and Manchester United proceeded to terminate its estimated $53 million sponsorship deal with the company:

“In light of events in Ukraine, we have withdrawn Aeroflot’s sponsorship rights,” read a statement from United. “We share the concerns of our fans around the world and extend our sympathies to those affected.”

Russia-Ukraine conflict’s impact on players & owners

With the transfer window not opening again until the summer, it’s too early to tell if we could see potential restrictions placed by either Russian or Ukrainian leagues regarding players their clubs are permitted to sign.

Back in 2015, former Russian sports minister Vitaly Mutko banned domestic clubs in Russia from signing Turkish players due to strained relations between the two countries at the time.

The more immediate impact could be faced by Russian billionaires who have ownership stakes in foreign clubs and who could face the brunt of sanctions imposed by governments seeking to apply pressure on Russia by cracking down on backers of the Putin regime.

The spotlight is shining brightly on Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich, who is the subject of speculation about how he might be affected by potential UK government decisions to put the squeeze on oligarchs who have sway with Russian political leaders.

Members of the UK Parliament have called for Abramovich’s assets to be seized in light of his high-profile affiliation with the Russian state and Putin. 

Will 2023 UEFA Super Cup be moved next?

UEFA might be faced with another major decision in short order should the conflict not be resolved.

The 2023 UEFA Super Cup is scheduled to be held in Kazan, Russia, and another venue switch could be on the cards similar to what occurred with the Champions League.

The Super Cup pits the Champions League winner against the Europa League winner and is typically held in August as the first piece of continental silverware up for grabs every season.

The Ukrainian federation appealed to UEFA to consider revoking the Super Cup hosting rights in an official communication released on Feb. 24.