The Champions League final is due to be held in Russia, so UEFA has a decision to make. Does it allow it to go ahead in St Petersburg, as the host nation invades Ukraine, or not?
Hi, I’m Chloe and this is the Playmaker.
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Today, the beautiful game and a bloody war.
“Mister Speaker, on his point about sporting events, as I said earlier on, I think it inconceivable that major international football tournaments can take place in Russia…after the invasion of a sovereign country.”Sky Sports News
There are moments in our history when sport becomes embroiled in global events.
The question over where to host this year’s Champions League Final is one of those moments, because it’s due to be held in St Petersburg in Russia.
A country whose leader has just ordered a full-scale invasion of its neighbour, Ukraine, igniting a major new war in Europe.
A country that doesn’t have much of a sporting interest in the tournament, but does have financial interests.
Gazprom is a Russian state energy company, which has sponsored the Champions League since 2012 and its advert appears before every match.
But here’s the thing. Neither you or I can buy our energy from Gazprom. It supplies other countries with Russian gas.
Its sponsorship of the Champions League isn’t about selling you its product. It’s about image. The image of Gazprom, and its owner, the Russian government.
And it’s worth a lot of money too. The Financial Times estimates that the Champions League deal is worth around forty million euros per season to UEFA.
Professor Simon Chadwick is an expert in the geopolitical economy of sport.
“It’s a really interesting organisation, I think its motives are really really significant.
For me, Gazprom epitomises really the eastward shift that we’re beginning to see in sport more generally, but specifically in football.”SeeFacultyTV
Last year Gazprom extended its deal with UEFA for the Champions League until 2024. They also signed up to sponsor Euro 2020, and the next Euros too.
The stadium in St. Petersburg that is supposed to host the final is called – you guessed it – the Gazprom Arena.
Russia’s influence on European football isn’t just felt through sponsorship deals though…
Alexander Dyukov is chairman of the management board of Gazprom Neft, which owns 96% of shares in Gazprom itself.
He was also the Chairman of Zenit St Petersburg, he’s President of the Russian Football Union and a member of UEFA’s executive committee.
None of this is untoward, but at a time when Russia is waging a war that’s been condemned by the West, it makes things uncomfortable for UEFA.
Football has been in this position before with Russia. The country hosted the 2018 World Cup, just 4 years after Vladimir Putin ordered the invasion of Crimea, with the aim of returning it to Russia.
Ukraine and other countries condemned his actions, and considered it to be a violation of international law.
But the tournament went ahead in Russia after the now disgraced Sepp Blatter – who was FIFA president at the time – resisted calls to move it.
“But the World Cup is not the Olympic Games. The World Cup is football. And football cannot be boycotted. And football cannot be boycotted in any country and not in Russia. Definitely not.”France 24 English
There’s something different this time though, because this isn’t about moving a whole tournament.
There’s also a precedent, the last two Champions League Finals have been moved to different locations because of Covid.
And, perhaps most importantly, Russia is invading a whole country of around 41 million people.
UEFA is under considerable political pressure as European countries line up to condemn and sanction Vladimir Putin’s regime.
And ultimately that will probably trump all other considerations, because UEFA President Aleksander Ceferin is known to have built close ties with the EU during the European Super League affair.
“To the English clubs, mainly, come to your senses. Not out of love for football, because I imagine some of you don’t have much of that. But out of respect for those who bleed themselves dry so that they can go to the stadium to support their team and want their dream to be kept alive.”We Show Football
He also supports a common move towards a ‘European Sport Model’ of governance, so it would be strange for UEFA to break with the EU on an issue of such global importance… Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Today’s episode was written by Chloe Beresford, and produced by Ella Hill.