European soccer’s governing body on Friday voted to move this season’s Champions League final, the showcase game on the continent’s sporting calendar, to Paris as punishment for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The game, on May 28, had been scheduled to be played in St. Petersburg, in a stadium built for 2018 World Cup and financed by the Russian energy giant Gazprom, a major sponsor of the governing body, UEFA. It will take place instead at the Stade de France, in the northern Paris suburb of Saint-Denis. It will be the first time France has hosted the final since 2006.
UEFA said it had made the decision as a result of “the grave escalation of the security situation in Europe.”
UEFA also said it would relocate any games in tournaments it controls that were to be played in Russia and Ukraine, whether involving clubs or national teams, “until further notice.”
At the moment, that affects only a single club match: Spartak Moscow’s next home game in the second-tier Europa League. But UEFA’s move to punish Russia will put new pressure on world soccer’s governing body, FIFA, to move a World Cup qualifying match set for Moscow next month.
On Thursday the soccer federations from Poland, Czech Republic and Sweden wrote to FIFA calling for Russia to be banned from hosting playoff games for the 2022 World Cup that are scheduled for next month. Poland is scheduled to play Russia in Moscow on March 24. If Russia wins that game, it would host the winner of the game between the Czechs and Sweden in a match to decide one of Europe’s final places in the World Cup in Qatar later this year.
“The military escalation that we are observing entails serious consequences and considerably lower safety for our national football teams and official delegations,” the federations wrote in a joint statement. They called on FIFA — which has authority over the games — and UEFA to immediately present “alternative solutions” for sites that were not on Russian soil.
Russia’s soccer federation, known as the R.F.U., reacted angrily to the decision to move any matches.
“We believe that the decision to move the venue of the Champions League final was dictated by political reasons,” said the federation’s president, Alexander Dyukov. “The R.F.U. has always adhered to the principle of ‘sport is out of politics,’ and thus cannot support this decision.”
“The R.F.U. also does not support the decision to transfer any matches involving Russian teams to neutral territory as violating the sports principle and infringing on the interests of players, coaches and fans.”
Understand Russia’s Attack on Ukraine
What is at the root of this invasion? Russia considers Ukraine within its natural sphere of influence, and it has grown unnerved at Ukraine’s closeness with the West and the prospect that the country might join NATO or the European Union. While Ukraine is part of neither, it receives financial and military aid from the United States and Europe.
Are these tensions just starting now? Antagonism between the two nations has been simmering since 2014, when the Russian military crossed into Ukrainian territory, after an uprising in Ukraine replaced their Russia-friendly president with a pro-Western government. Then, Russia annexed Crimea and inspired a separatist movement in the east. A cease-fire was negotiated in 2015, but fighting has continued.
How has Ukraine responded? On Feb. 23, Ukraine declared a 30-day state of emergency as cyberattacks knocked out government institutions. Following the beginning of the attacks, Volodymyr Zelensky, Ukraine’s president, declared martial law. The foreign minister called the attacks “a full-scale invasion” and called on the world to “stop Putin.”
Dyukov is also the chief executive of Gazprom and the president of the Russian team Zenit-St. Petersburg.
UEFA had in recent days been lobbied extensively privately and publicly by British officials about moving the Champions League final to London. That idea was quickly rejected, however, for logistical reasons as well as unease about the game’s becoming a political tool for British lawmakers who have often used soccer to score points at home and abroad. Britain’s foreign secretary, for example, this week suggested British teams that should boycott the game if they qualified and it was not moved out of Russia.
Paris emerged as the top candidate to replace St. Petersburg because it had not hosted the game since 2006 and because France currently holds the rotating presidency of the Council of the European Union, one of the bloc’s key decision-making bodies.
The UEFA president, Aleksander Ceferin, traveled to the French capital on Thursday to meet with France’s president, Emmanuel Macron, to finalize the agreement.
It will be the third straight year the Champions League final has had to be relocated, with the two most recent editions shifted to Portugal because of coronavirus concerns.
The final in Paris also will be the first time since the outbreak of the coronavirus that the game will be played in a full stadium. The 2020 final was played without spectators as part of a so-called bubble environment created to finish the competition’s remaining games, while last year restrictions meant only a quarter of the Dragão stadium in Porto was allowed to be populated.