UEFA will hold an emergency meeting on Friday with this season’s Champions League final in Saint Petersburg set to be at the top of the agenda as European football’s governing body said it “strongly condemns” Russia’s military invasion of Ukraine.
“UEFA shares the international community’s significant concern for the security situation developing in Europe and strongly condemns the ongoing Russian military invasion in Ukraine,” it said in a statement on Thursday.
“We remain resolute in our solidarity with the football community in Ukraine and stand ready to extend our hand to the Ukrainian people.”
UEFA said an extraordinary meeting of its executive committee would be held on Friday at 0900 GMT and a decision is likely to be made on this season’s Champions League final.
The showpiece game of European club football’s premier competition is scheduled to be played on May 28 at the Gazprom Arena in Saint Petersburg, which already hosted several matches at last year’s European Championship and at the 2018 World Cup held in Russia.
“We are dealing with this situation with the utmost seriousness and urgency. Decisions will be taken by the UEFA Executive Committee and announced tomorrow,” UEFA added on Thursday.
European football’s governing body also has a major sponsorship deal with Gazprom, the Russian state energy giant.
On Thursday the German club Schalke 04 said it would remove the logo of Gazprom, its main sponsor, from the team’s shirts.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson claimed on Tuesday that Russia had “no chance” of holding European football’s showpiece game if it invaded Ukraine.
“A Russia that has pariah status — no chance of holding a football tournament in a Russia that invades sovereign countries,” Johnson said.
“No decision has been taken” by UEFA to move the final but it is “studying different options”, a source with knowledge of the discussions told AFP.
Call to move World Cup play-offs
There are currently four English Premier League clubs still involved in the last 16 of this season’s Champions League, including Chelsea and Manchester City, who contested last season’s final in Porto, Portugal.
UEFA has already moved the last two Champions League finals due to the Covid-19 pandemic from Istanbul to Lisbon in 2020, and then again from the Turkish city to Porto last year.
The latter move was made after the UK government placed Turkey on its coronavirus travel red list, meaning British football fans would not have been able to attend.
British media reports have suggested Wembley Stadium in London as a possible alternative venue for this season’s final, despite the Euro 2020 final there last year being plagued by fan trouble.
The Champions League final was last staged in Russia in 2008 when Manchester United defeated Chelsea on penalties in Moscow.
Zenit Saint Petersburg, the reigning Russian champions and current league leaders, are still involved in the UEFA competition this season and play Real Betis in Spain in the Europa League on Thursday.
The Ukrainian league, which was due to resume this weekend after its long winter break, has been suspended.
“We’ll withstand it,” posted Shakhtar Donetsk, the 13-time Ukrainian champions who have been exiled from their already war-torn home city for eight years, on Twitter with a picture of the Ukrainian flag.
Meanwhile, the Polish, Czech and Swedish football federations released a joint statement calling on FIFA to move World Cup qualifying play-off ties due to be played next month away from Russia.
Russia are due to host Poland in a play-off semi-final on March 24. Should they win, they would then host the Czech Republic or Sweden five days later to decide who qualifies for the World Cup in Qatar.
The three countries said in a statement addressed to world football’s governing body that the play-off matches scheduled for late March “should not be played in the territory of the Russian Federation”.
“The military escalation that we are observing entails serious consequences and considerably lower safety for our national football teams and official delegations,” the statement said.
“Therefore, we expect FIFA and UEFA to react immediately and to present alternative solutions regarding places where these approaching playoff matches could be played.”