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May 19, 2022
Cancellations, revocations and repudiations: Russia becomes persona non grata in sport
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Cancellations, revocations and repudiations: Russia becomes persona non grata in sport

The invasion of Ukraine drew more punitive measures across the sporting world on Saturday, a day after Russia was stripped of hosting the Champions League final, which was moved to Paris from Saint Petersburg.

FootballWhile UEFA is still deliberating over whether to terminate its reported 40-million-euro annual sponsorship contract with Russian state-owned gas giant Gazprom, the Champions League final will no longer be held at Saint Petersburg but in Paris, still on May 28 but at the 80,000-seat Stade de France. The decision to strip Russia of the hosting honour was announced on Friday, when UEFA also announced that Russian and Ukrainian clubs and national teams competing in international competitions must play home matches at neutral venues “until further notice”.

Spartak Moscow in the Europa League are the only club from either Russia or Ukraine still in European competition this season.

On Saturday, Poland announced it would refuse to play in a March 24 World Cup qualifier against Russia next month, citing the invasion of Ukraine. “The time for talking is over. It is time to act. Due to the escalation of the Russian Federation’s aggression in Ukraine, the Polish team does not envisage playing the play-off against Russia,” wrote Polish football federation president Cezary Kulesza.

His Swedish counterpart followed suit later on Saturday. “Whatever FIFA decide, we will not play against Russia in March,” said federation president Karl-Erik Nilsson.

Poland were scheduled to play in Moscow on March 24 while the Swedes first face the Czech Republic.

Kulesza said he would work with the Swedish and Czech federations – the winners of their match would have to play in Russia on March 29 if the latter beat Poland – to present a unified position to FIFA.

The three federations issued a joint statement on Thursday demanding FIFA move the respective play-offs from Russia, which only four years ago hosted the World Cup finals.

Poland captain Robert Lewandowski welcomed his federation’s move. “The right decision!” tweeted Bayern Munich’s star striker.

“Russian footballers and fans are not responsible for this, but we cannot pretend that nothing is happening.”

It is the right decision! I can’t imagine playing a match with the Russian National Team in a situation when armed aggression in Ukraine continues. Russian footballers and fans are not responsible for this, but we can’t pretend that nothing is happening. https://t.co/rfnfbXzdjF

— Robert Lewandowski (@lewy_official) February 26, 2022

Chelsea FC’s billionaire Russian owner, Roman Abramovich, said late Saturday that he was handing over the “stewardship and care” of the Premier League club to the trustees of its charitable foundation as Russia faces backlash over its invasion of Ukraine. Earlier in the week, using parliamentary privilege, Liberal Democrat MP Layla Moran named Abramovich as one of Putin’s 35 “key enablers” who should be sanctioned.

Auto racingFormula One announced on Friday that it was cancelling the Russian Grand Prix in Sochi, scheduled for September 25. Pressure had grown on the organisers after reigning champion Max Verstappen and four-time champion Sebastian Vettel said they would not go to Sochi. 

The Black Sea resort was due to host the race for the last time before it heads to Saint Petersburg next year.

The invasion could also cost the Haas team dearly as Dmitry Mazepin, the father of their Russian driver Nikita, is the non-executive director of their title sponsor Uralkali and a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

International Olympic CommitteeThe International Olympic Committee (IOC) has urged sports bodies to cancel or move all events planned for Russia and Belarus and to stop using the countries’ flags and national anthems.

Russia breached the Olympic Truce by invading Ukraine on Thursday, only four days after the closing ceremony of the Winter Games in Beijing. Some of the Russian troops entered Ukraine from Belarus, a staunch Russian ally.

It was the third Russian breach of the Olympic Truce in the past 14 years. Russia invaded Georgia during the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing and annexed Crimea shortly after the end of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.

The IOC said governing bodies “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”.

The IOC statement signaled a newfound rejection of President Vladimir Putin, who has lavishly funded sports events and was still being courted by IOC President Thomas Bach and FIFA President Gianni Infantino despite the country’s record of corrupting high-level sports competitions with state-sponsored doping schemes over the last decade.

But the backlash against the embrace of Russian state-owned companies as sponsors in sports has seen Manchester United drop Aeroflot’s commercial deal. The English Premier League giant cited “events in Ukraine” after the airline was banned in Britain as part of sanctions against Putin’s regime.

SkiingThe International Ski Federation has announced Russia will not host any more of its World Cup events this winter.

The executive board of the Norwegian Ski Federation said Saturday it does not want Russian athletes competing at upcoming World Cup races and world championships in Norway.

“Russia’s violations of international law and attacks on the Ukrainian people demand international condemnation and sanctions,” Norway’s federation said in a statement.

“Sport is not detached from this and cannot remain passive to what is happening now.

“The Norwegian Ski Federation’s message to Russia and Russian athletes is crystal clear – we do not want your participation.”

Norway is set to host events in Alpine skiing, cross country skiing, ski jumping and Nordic combined over the next few weeks.

TennisThe International Tennis Federation has canceled all events taking place in Russia indefinitely.

CurlingThe European curling championships, scheduled to be held in November in Perm, Russia, will also be relocated.

BiathlonThe International Biathlon Union (IBU) also took action following Friday’s call by the International Olympic Committee for sports federations to bar the respective national flags of Russia and Belarus being flown at sports events.

“No Russian or Belarusian flags, symbols or national emblems can be displayed at the venue,” said the IBU in a statement.

“Instead of the countries’ flags, the IBU flag shall be displayed.”

Russian and Belarus athletes would still be permitted to compete in the remaining three events but as neutral competitors.

However, Estonia, who host the penultimate event at Otepaeae from March 10-13, have barred Russian and Belarus biathletes entering the country.

‘Blanket sporting ban’The Swedes are proposing a boycott of all competitions being hosted in Russia and a ban that would prohibit any Russian athlete from competing in the European Union. 

It is understood Abramovich took the decision in order to protect Chelsea from reputational damage as war rages in Ukraine.

The Telegraph reported Abramovich will remain the owner of the club and is not looking to sell the European champions.

The Swedish government said it was going to try and persuade the other 27 European Union states to impose a blanket sporting ban on Russia for “as long as the invasion of Ukraine lasts”.

“The most important thing is that the Russian aggression ceases,” Swedish Sports Minister Anders Ygeman said in a statement.

“If the EU decides on a sporting boycott, that will help achieve this target.”

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP and Reuters) 

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