UK wants Gazprom-backed Champions League final out of Russia

Feb 21, 2022, 3:12 PM | Updated: Feb 24, 2022, 2:25 pm
FILE - A general view of the St. Petersburg Stadium prior to the Confederations Cup soccer match be...

FILE - A general view of the St. Petersburg Stadium prior to the Confederations Cup soccer match between New Zealand and Portugal, in St. Petersburg, Russia, June 24, 2017. The British government led calls Tuesday, Feb. 22, 2022 for the Champions League final to be taken off Russia by European football's governing body to punish its deepening intervention in Ukraine. The showpiece men's game is due to be played in St. Petersburg on May 28 for the biggest sporting event in Russia since the 2018 World Cup.(AP Photo/Pavel Golovkin, file)

(AP Photo/Pavel Golovkin, file)

LONDON (AP) — UEFA faced calls from the British government to strip Russia of hosting the Champions League final over concerns it would legitimize what it called an “illegal invasion” of Ukraine, prompting European football’s governing body to say Tuesday it would reconsider St. Petersburg staging the showpiece match.

The biggest game in the European season is scheduled May 28 at the Gazprom Arena, which is named after the state-owned energy giant that has sponsored the men’s competition for a decade.

Gazprom is also embedded in the decision-making at UEFA, with Alexander Dyukov, the chief executive of an oil subsidiary company, sitting on UEFA’s ruling executive committee.

UEFA has acknowledged for the first time a risk to Russia staging the final following talks among the senior leadership about the crisis.

“UEFA is constantly and closely monitoring the situation,” the Champions League organizer said in a statement, “and any decision would be made in due course if necessary.”

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson highlighted concerns about Russia using sports to enhance its status while urging President Vladimir Putin not to carry out a full invasion of Ukraine after massing an estimated 150,000 troops on three sides of neighboring Ukraine.

“He is going to end up with … a Russia that is more isolated, a Russia that has pariah status, no chance of holding football tournaments in a Russia that invades sovereign countries,” Johnson told the House of Commons.

Russia sparked an outcry by announcing on Monday that its recognition of independence for areas in eastern Ukraine extended to territory currently held by Ukrainian forces and troops were then authorized to be sent to the separatist regions.

“It’s a very delicate situation that can change hourly and of course we all have an eye on it,” Rainer Koch, a German member of the UEFA executive committee, told the broadcaster ARD.

With four representatives in the round of 16 of the Champions League, England has the most teams remaining in the competition.

Oleksandr Zinchenko, a Ukrainian who plays for Manchester City, issued a plea on Instagram for his country’s territorial sovereignty to be protected.

As United States forward Christian Pulisic celebrated scoring for Chelsea against Lille in a last-16 game on Tuesday, Gazprom advertisements flashed on the electronic boards at Stamford Bridge. Chelsea is owned by Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich, whom Johnson wrongly stated in the House of Commons was facing sanctions from the government.

Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries, who holds the sports brief in Johnson’s cabinet, said she would discuss “serious concerns” about Russia staging the final with UEFA.

“We won’t allow President Putin to exploit events on the world stage to legitimize his illegal invasion of Ukraine,” Dorries said.

UEFA has had to move the Champions League final in the last two seasons, both times from Turkey to Portugal due to the pandemic.

FIFA council member Alexey Sorokin, who also leads the organizing committee for the final, said no discussions with UEFA had taken place about St. Petersburg losing the hosting rights.

“We are preparing for the final according to plan,” Sorokin told the TASS news agency. “We expect more than 50,000 foreign fans to arrive.”

But members of Russia’s upper house voted unanimously on Tuesday to allow Putin to use military force outside the country — effectively formalizing a Russian military deployment to the rebel regions, where an eight-year conflict has killed nearly 14,000 people.

UEFA has been keeping Ukrainian and Russian teams separated in draws to prevent them from playing each other since Moscow annexed the Crimea peninsula of Ukraine and backed separatist insurgents in eastern Ukraine.

Russia’s state gas company, Gazprom, has been a sponsor of the Champions League since 2012 — the same year Ukraine co-hosted the European Championship with Poland. But the company’s logos were removed from a UEFA-branded “Champions Festival” on Kyiv’s main street when the Ukrainian capital staged the 2018 Champions League final between Real Madrid and Liverpool.

Russia is already serving a punishment from the World Anti-Doping Agency for state-sponsored cheating that prevents it from hosting international sports events through December. But UEFA was not bound by the ruling as a European governing body which meant St. Petersburg has already hosted four games at the European Championship last year.

Separately on Tuesday, the Polish football federation asked FIFA to urgently clarify whether its World Cup playoff game against Russia on March 24 will be played in Moscow as scheduled. The winner of that game will face Sweden or the Czech Republic for a place at the World Cup in Qatar.

If Russia qualifies for the World Cup in Qatar in November the team name must be changed to something neutral that likely would not include the word “Russia.” The Russian team at the past two Olympics has been called ROC — Russian Olympic Committee.


AP Sports Writer James Ellingworth in Düsseldorf, Germany contributed to this report.


More AP soccer: and

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


Boston Red Sox pitcher Michael Wacha wipes his face as he walks off the mound against the New York ...
Associated Press

Wacha shuts down Yankees, Devers homers in Boston’s 3-0 win

BOSTON (AP) — Michael Wacha allowed two hits in seven innings in his return from a shoulder injury, and Rafael Devers homered on Sunday night to lead the last-place Boston Red Sox past the division-leading New York Yankees 3-0. Tommy Pham had three hits for the Red Sox, who took two of three from New […]
20 hours ago
Associated Press

Wings soar past Sparks with 41-point second quarter

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Marina Mabrey scored 27 points, Teaira McCowan added 24, and playoff-bound Dallas rode a 41-point second quarter to a 116-88 victory over Los Angeles in a regular-season finale on Sunday. The second-quarter blitz included an 18-0 run and the Wings finished the first half with a 66-29 lead on 74% shooting […]
20 hours ago
Latvia's Ralfs Bergmanis (16), Martins Lavins (6) and Girts Silkalns (15) celebrate a goal against ...
Associated Press

Latvia beats Czechs to reach world junior quarterfinals

EDMONTON, Alberta (AP) — Ralfs Bergmanis had a hat trick and Latvia beat the Czech Republic 5-2 on Sunday to secure a quarterfinal spot in the world junior championship. Latvia (1-2-1) was third in Group A, a spot ahead of the Czech Republic (1-2-1). Latvia got into the event when Russia and Belarus were expelled. […]
20 hours ago
San Francisco Giants' Thairo Estrada, second from right, celebrates with teammates after hitting a ...
Associated Press

Estrada hits 2-run HR in 9th, Giants edge Pirates 8-7

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Thairo Estrada hit a two-run homer with one out in the ninth inning and the San Francisco Giants edged the Pittsburgh Pirates 8-7 in a back-and-forth game Sunday. Evan Longoria, whose wild throw gave Pittsburgh the go-ahead run in the top of the ninth, started the rally in the bottom half […]
20 hours ago
Associated Press

Sky take No. 2 seed in playoffs after cruising past Mercury

PHOENIX (AP) — Azura Stevens scored 17 points and Chicago wrapped up the regular season with an 82-67 victory over Phoenix on Sunday. Chicago (26-10), the defending WNBA champion, had an opportunity to take the No. 1 playoff seed had Las Vegas (also 26-10) lost its regular-season finale earlier on Sunday. However, the Aces defeated […]
20 hours ago
Las Vegas Raiders tight end Jesper Horsted is tackled by Minnesota Vikings cornerback Parry Nickers...
Associated Press

Raiders move to 2-0 in preseason with 26-20 win over Vikings

LAS VEGAS (AP) — One of the biggest questions facing Las Vegas Raiders first-year coach Josh McDaniels was where he would find the right pieces for his offensive line. McDaniels may not have all the answers after a 26-20 preseason win over the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday, but he’s pleased with what he’s seen in […]
20 hours ago
UK wants Gazprom-backed Champions League final out of Russia