Reaction from the sporting world to yesterday’s (February 24) Russian invasion of Ukraine is happening apace in the form of terminated sponsorship agreements, statements of condemnation, and calls for major disciplinary action.
The biggest step taken so far is the reallocation, announced today (February 25), of the prestigious UEFA Champions League (UCL) final, the finale of pan-European soccer’s top-tier club competition, from St. Petersburg to Paris.
The international sporting community has, almost without exception, denounced the invasion, which has so far seen Russian troops sweep into the country from three sides and attempt to take the capital Kiev, with ripples felt across major sports such as soccer, tennis, and motorsport.
The UCL final, which had been due to take place at St. Petersburg's Gazprom Arena – the naming rights to which are held by the Russian energy giant – on May 28, will now be held at the Stade de France stadium in the French capital on the same date.
The game’s fate was effectively sealed earlier this week when UEFA announced that it would hold a general meeting today at which it said: "decisions will be taken".
The body strongly condemned the Russian invasion – which has so far resulted in, the Ukrainian government has claimed, the bombing of over 30 civilian-centric sites and at the latest count has left more than 150 Ukrainians dead – and chose to allocate a new host as punishment to Russia for an invasion.
The new venue will be the first French host for a UCL final since 2006 when the Stade de France was also the venue. The arena has also hosted matches at the 1998 FIFA World Cup and will be used to stage events at the 2024 Paris Olympics.
UEFA has also announced today that Russian sides – national or club – who compete in its competitions will be required to play matches against Ukrainian teams at neutral venues until further notice.
In terms of material consequences for Russian brands, UEFA is also under extreme pressure to cut its ties with Gazprom, which has served as a top-tier sponsor of the Champions League since 2012. The relationship is worth €40 million ($44.6 million) per year.
Gazprom is among UEFA’s major partners and last year enhanced its relationship with the body to become a sponsor of two editions of the European Championships (Euro 2020 and Euro 2024), in addition to renewing its Champions League sponsorship until 2024.
Champions League broadcasters are required to show Gazprom commercials as part of their rights deals for the competition and continued to do so this week while the situation deteriorated.
However, now that a full-scale invasion is underway, broadcasters are understood to be seeking guidance from UEFA on whether to continue showing Gazprom advertising during their live coverage amid growing concerns from customers.
German second-tier club Schalke 04 have already taken significant steps in terms of their relationship with Gazprom, which has been the club’s shirt sponsor since 2006. The firm’s logo will now be replaced with the name ‘Schalke 04’, with no Gazprom branding to be visible on the kit. The relationship is due to run until 2025, but that, of course, may no longer end up being the case.
Elsewhere, English soccer giants Manchester United have terminated their sponsorship deal with Russia’s largest airline Aeroflot, which was originally struck in 2013 and in 2017 was then extended until 2023.
Aeroflot, which has up until this point been serving as United’s official carrier for international travel, did not take the team to Madrid for their UEFA Champions League fixture earlier this week, and the termination came on Friday morning after multiple reports had suggested the news was in the offing.
Outside soccer, there will also likely be serious consequences for Uralkali, a major Russian potash fertilizer producer and exporter that is currently the title sponsor of the Haas team from motor racing’s glamorous Formula 1 (F1) series.
At the team’s pre-season testing in Barcelona yesterday, Haas dropped the Uralkali livery that had adorned it last season, with its two drivers – one of them being Russian Nikita Mazepin, whose father reportedly has close ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin – testing plain white cars instead.
F1 itself has today indicated that the Russian Grand Prix will not take place if the situation remains as it is.
The race is slated for September 25 at the Sochi Autodrom, but a statement from F1 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 1, 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."
It was reported that there were a number of team meetings held yesterday to discuss the next steps, and a number of drivers had said they should not – and in the case of former drivers’ champion Sebastian Vettel, would not – race in Russia.
The Sochi Grand Prix first took place in 2014 and has been held every year since.
In tennis, meanwhile, the second-tier ATP Challenger event on the men’s professional tour which was due to take place next week in Moscow, Russia’s capital, “will not take place as scheduled”, the ATP has said.
It has also relocated the St. Petersburg Open, an ATP250 event, to Nur-Sultan in Kazakhstan, removing a tennis tournament from the Russian city which had been held there every year consecutively since 1995.
The International Ski Federation, meanwhile, has canceled all its remaining 2021-22 season events in Russia.
In terms of international reaction to the Russian invasion, multiple governing bodies have so far had their say.
The International Olympic Committee (IOC), has said it “strongly condemns the breach of the Olympic Truce by the Russian government.”
The Truce, which takes the form of a United Nations resolution that the period around an Olympic Games should not witness any conflict or war, is currently ongoing for the Beijing Winter Olympics, which took place from February 4 to 20. (The Truce is meant to last a week after a games finishes).
The IOC added that it is “deeply concerned about the safety of the Olympic Community in Ukraine”, and said that it has established a task force to “closely monitor the situation.”
FIFA, European soccer’s governing body, said in a statement that it “condemns the use of force by Russia … and any type of violence to resolve conflict.”
World Athletics has also condemned the invasion and has said it is “appalled by developments.”