The Impact of the Russian Invasion of Ukraine on International Sporting Events

Photo Credits: Anatoly Maltsev/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock

On Friday the UEFA Europa League announced its decision to move the Champions League final from Saint Petersburg to Paris. The game, set for Saturday, May 28, 2022, was slated to be in a St. Petersburg stadium previously built for the 2018 World Cup.[1] This decision comes in the wake of the Russian military attacks on Ukraine, which have resulted in international condemnation and calls for increased sanctions against Russia.[2] UEFA says it made the decision based on “the grave escalation of the security situation in Europe.”[3]

European lawmakers urged the UEFA governing body to move the final out of Russia. A letter sent by a group of European politicians also asked the UEFA Executive Committee to “terminate cooperation with Gazprom as UEFA sponsor and to consider sanctions against individual Russian officials who are complicit in the violation of international law.”[4] Gazprom is the world’s largest gas producer and majority-owned by the Russian state.[5]  Gazprom has been a sponsor of the UEFA since 2012 and reports suggest that the company pays around 40 million euros or $45 million a year as a sponsor.[6] This company also financed the stadium where the game was scheduled to be played.[7] Reports also suggest the UEFA is discussing options for ending its relationship and contract with Gazprom due to the ongoing conflict.[8] This is not the first organization to consider distancing itself from the Russian sponsor. FC Schalke 04, a German soccer club, has removed the logo from the club’s jerseys, stating “[f]ollowing recent developments, FC Schalke 04 have decided to remove the logo of main sponsor GAPROM from the club’s shirts.”[9]

UEFA is not the only soccer league or sporting event experiencing difficulty in the wake of this conflict. FIFA will also need to deal with potential schedule changes and disruptions to the upcoming World Cup qualifying matches. The Russian team is scheduled to play Poland in March for a semi-final playoff game to qualify for the Qatar 2022 World Cup. Should Russia win that game, the team would play Sweden or Czech Republic on March 29.[10] Both the Poland and Swedish teams have announced they will not travel to or face Russia in the qualifying games set for March. In making this announcement via Twitter, Cezary Kulesza, the president of Poland’s football association stated, “No more words, time to act! Due to the escalation of the aggression of the Russian Federation towards Ukraine the Polish national team does not intend to play the play-off match against Russia.”[11] The Swedish Football Association echoed this decision stating its men’s national team “will not play a possible playoff match against Russia- regardless of where the match is played.”[12] Members of the Polish team released statements on their social media accounts expressing support and solidarity for the people of Ukraine, stating “It is not an easy decision, but there are more important things in life than football. Our thoughts are with the Ukrainian nation and our friend from the national team, Tomasz Kedziora, who is still in Kiev with his family.”[13] FIFA also received criticism for not immediately removing Russia from the World Cup, but instead have ordered the Russia team to play at a neutral location, without its flag and anthem, and under the name “Football Union of Russia.”[14]

Additionally, the International Ice Hockey Federation (“IIHF”) will likely meet this week to discuss potential changes to the upcoming IIHF Men’s and Women’s World Championships. Currently, Russia is set to host the 2023 world juniors in Novosibirsk and Omsk and the 2023 Men’s World Championship in St. Petersburg.[15] Wayne Gretzsky believes the IIHF should completely ban the Russian teams from the rescheduled junior men’s hockey championship stating, “I think international hockey should say, ‘We’re not gonna let them play in the world junior hockey tournament. I think we got to, as Canadians, take that stance since the games are going to be played in Edmonton.’”[16] This tournament, previously postponed due to COVID-19 cases, will continue in August in Edmonton and Red Deer, Alberta.[17]

Other notable sports new related to the Russian invasion of Ukraine continues to evolve on a daily basis. Roman Abramovich, the Russia owner of Chelsea FC has placed the team in the control of a charitable foundation.[18]Abramovich has owned the team since 2003.[19] Additionally, the Dinamo Riga hockey team located in Latvia and the Jokerit team from Finland both announced their withdrawals from the Kontinental Hockey League.[20]

As the conflict continues to unfold, more decisions and breaking news will surface regarding other international competition, Russian involvement in these competitions and Russian sponsorships.


[1] Tariq Panja, Champions League Final Will Be Played in Paris, Not Russia, New York Times, (Feb. 25, 2022), https://www.nytimes.com/2022/02/25/sports/soccer/champions-league-final-paris-russia.html

[2] Anthony Hay, UEFA Moves Champions League Final From Saint Petersburg to Paris, The Atlantic, (Feb. 25, 2022), https://theathletic.com/news/uefa-to-move-champions-league-final-from-saint-petersburg-to-paris/wHhTVPExVRta/

[3] Tariq Panja, Champions League Final Will Be Played in Paris, Not Russia, New York Times, (Feb. 25, 2022), https://www.nytimes.com/2022/02/25/sports/soccer/champions-league-final-paris-russia.html

[4] Anthony Hay, UEFA Moves Champions League Final From Saint Petersburg to Paris, The Atlantic, (Feb. 25, 2022), https://theathletic.com/news/uefa-to-move-champions-league-final-from-saint-petersburg-to-paris/wHhTVPExVRta/

[5] How Gazprom Helps the Kremlin Put the Squeeze on Europe, The Economist, (Feb. 26, 2022), https://www.economist.com/business/how-gazprom-helps-the-kremlin-put-the-squeeze-on-europe/21807841

[6] Invasion of Ukraine Places Question Mark Over Gazprom’s UEFA Contract, Yahoo Sports, (Feb. 26, 2022), https://sports.yahoo.com/invasion-ukraine-places-mark-over-152920499.html.

[7] Tariq Panja, Champions League Final Will Be Played in Paris, Not Russia, New York Times, (Feb. 25, 2022), https://www.nytimes.com/2022/02/25/sports/soccer/champions-league-final-paris-russia.html.

[8] Paul Macinnes & Jamie Jackson, UEFA Moves to End Gazprom Deal and Strips Russia of Champions League Final, The Guardian, (Feb. 25, 2022), https://www.theguardian.com/football/2022/feb/25/russia-stripped-champions-league-final-uefa-ukraine.

[9] FC Schalke 04, Twitter, (Feb. 24, 2022, 8:46 AM) https://twitter.com/s04_en/status/1496844095225937924?cxt=HHwWiICqwcTx7cUpAAAA.

[10] Ben Morse, Poland, Sweden Refuse to Play Russia in World Cup Qualification Playoffs After Invasion of Ukraine, CNN, (Feb. 26, 2022),https://www.cnn.com/2022/02/26/football/poland-football-russia-ukraine-world-cup-spt-intl/index.html.

[11] Id.

[12] Id.

[13] Id.

[14] Rob Harris, Euro Backlash as FIFA refuses to Expel Russia from Football, (Feb. 28, 2022), https://apnews.com/article/russia-ukraine-sports-soccer-czech-republic-world-cup-28eda547fd8de260cf520af9913276ef

[15] Corey Pronman, IIHF Likely to Implement Sanctions Against Russia Following Ukraine Invasions, The Athletic, (Feb. 27, 2022), https://theathletic.com/news/iihf-likely-to-implement-sanctions-against-russia-following-ukraine-invasion-sources/tGR7NaIPOMcc/

[16] Cole Shelton, Wayne Gretzky Calls for Russia to be Banned From Rescheduled World Juniors, CBC Sports, (Feb. 27, 2022), https://www.cbc.ca/sports/hockey/nhl/wayne-gretzky-calls-for-russia-to-be-banned-world-juniors-1.6366687

[17] Id.

[18] Luke Brown, Chelsea Owner Roman Abramovich Gives Trustees Stewardship of Premier League Club, The Athletic, (Feb. 27, 2022), https://theathletic.com/news/chelsea-owner-roman-abramovich-gives-trustees-stewardship-of-premier-league-club/z2VosguCe4bR/.

[19] Id.

[20] Ian Kennedy, Dinamo Riga Announced Sunday That They Have Withdrawn From the Kontinental Hockey League Amidst the Continued Invasion by Russia into Ukraine, The Hockey News, (Feb. 27. 2022), https://thehockeynews.com/news/dinamo-riga-withdraws-from-khl.

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