International sport has begun to turn its back on Russia over its invasion of Ukraine, with two prestigious events stripped from the country on Friday.
The Champions League football final in May was moved from Russia’s second-largest city, St Petersburg, to Paris while motor sport’s world governing body the FIA announced September’s Formula One Russian Grand Prix had been cancelled.
The decisions were welcomed by the British Government, with Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries saying: “Our message is clear: Russia must not be able to legitimise their heinous and barbaric attack on Ukraine by hosting international sporting and cultural events.”
The International Olympic Committee also called for global sports federations to cancel or relocate any future events they are planning to stage in Russia or Belarus.
Manchester United ended their commercial relationship with Russia’s national airline Aeroflot while UEFA is understood to be discussing with its lawyers how it can sever its ties with Russian energy company Gazprom, a major Champions League sponsor.
UEFA had been widely expected to relocate its showpiece club match from St Petersburg – the home city of Russian president Vladimir Putin – following Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine on Thursday, and the switch to the Stade de France in Paris was confirmed at an emergency executive committee meeting on Friday morning.
“UEFA wishes to express its thanks and appreciation to French President Emmanuel Macron for his personal support and commitment to have European club football’s most prestigious game moved to France at a time of unparalleled crisis,” a statement from European football’s governing body said.
“Together with the French government, UEFA will fully support multi-stakeholder efforts to ensure the provision of rescue for football players and their families in Ukraine who face dire human suffering, destruction and displacement.”
UEFA also announced any Russian or Ukrainian clubs and national teams involved in its competitions will be required to play their home matches at neutral venues until further notice, a decision which will affect Russian club Spartak Moscow who are up against German side RB Leipzig in the Europa League last 16.
This does not apply to the World Cup play-off matches taking place next month, which fall under FIFA’s jurisdiction and which feature Russia and Ukraine. FIFA’s president, Gianni Infantino, said on Thursday that the issue was being examined as a matter of urgency.
The Russian Grand Prix, due to take place on September 25, has been cancelled due to the invasion.
“The FIA Formula One World Championship visits countries all over the world with a positive vision to unite people, bringing nations together,” an FIA statement read.
“We are watching the developments in Ukraine with sadness and shock and hope for a swift and peaceful resolution to the present situation.
“On Thursday evening Formula One, the FIA, and the teams discussed the position of our sport, and the conclusion is, including the view of all relevant stakeholders, that it is impossible to hold the Russian Grand Prix in the current circumstances.”
The IOC’s executive board has urged global sports federations to cancel or relocate any events they are planning to stage in Russia, and also in Belarus which has provided assistance to Russia in its invasion of Ukraine.
“They should take the breach of the Olympic Truce by the Russian and Belarussian governments into account and give the safety and security of the athletes absolute priority,” an IOC statement read.
Manchester United announced their withdrawal from a sponsorship deal with Aeroflot.
The airline had been a commercial partner of the Premier League club since 2013 and regularly flew United to away games in Europe.
However, the Red Devils flew with charter airline Titan Airways for the Champions League tie away to Atletico Madrid and have now severed ties with Aeroflot, who the British Government have banned from flying into the UK as part of a package of sanctions imposed on Russia.
Russian energy giant Gazprom is also set to be dropped as a Champions League sponsor, with UEFA understood to be discussing with its lawyers a way out of its agreement.
Ukrainian footballers understandably anxious and upset about what is happening in their home country have been offered support by their English clubs.
Manchester City defender Oleksandr Zinchenko attended a demonstration in the city on Thursday evening and Blues boss Pep Guardiola said: “What would we feel if in our country where we were born and have family and friends innocent people are being killed?
“Of course, the team and the club is close to him, unconditionally.”
Everton are offering their support to defender Vitalii Mykolenko, while West Ham manager David Moyes said their Ukrainian star Andriy Yarmolenko had been given some time off.
Moyes said: “It is a really difficult time for him and his family and we respect that.
“I spoke with him on Thursday at training and he was upset as you can imagine and rightly so, and we just hope that everything goes well and all his family members and close family keep safe.”
The Wembley arch was lit in yellow and blue ahead of Sunday’s Carabao Cup final “in a display of solidarity for Ukraine and the people impacted by the ongoing military action”, the EFL said.
LaLiga announced that “the message STOP WAR will be present across all matches” in Spain’s top and second tiers this weekend.
Meanwhile Bayern Munich striker Robert Lewandowski, the captain of Poland, who are scheduled to play Russia away in a World Cup qualifier next month, tweeted: “Everything that is beautiful in sport contradicts what war brings. For all people who value freedom and peace, this is a time of solidarity with the victims of military aggression against Ukraine.
“As the captain of the national team, I will speak with my team-mates about the match with Russia to work out a common position on this matter and present it to the president of the Polish Football Association as soon as possible.”
Great Britain’s World Cup basketball qualifier against Belarus in Newcastle on Monday has been postponed.
The two sides had been due to meet in Minsk on Friday. But world governing body FIBA postponed that game on Thursday after Great Britain said they would not travel to the region.