Ukraine crisis: how international sport has reacted to Russia’s invasion

Ukraine crisis: how international sport has reacted to Russia’s invasion

With the rapidly evolving conflict between Russia and the Ukraine dominating the headlines, a roundup of this weekend's decisions by some of sports international governing bodies is captured below.

UEFA

Following on from Friday’s decision by UEFA to move the Champions League final from St. Petersburg to Paris, UEFA have informed that all Russian clubs and the country’s national team must play any UEFA-organized football match on foreign soil.

According to the Athletic, European football’s governing body is also in discussions with its lawyers over ending their longstanding sponsorship association with Russian state energy company Gazprom.

UEFA’s decision over Gazprom is a problem that has already been faced by German Bundesliga club, Schalke 04. Having had Gazprom’s logo on their shirt since 2007 the club has already announced its removal. A financial reckoning for football clubs and governing bodies that have welcomed Russian money over the last decade has already begun.

Chelsea FC

The Russian billionaire and owner of Chelsea FC issued a 110-word statement on Saturday announcing he would be stepping away from control of Chelsea but would remain the owner.

Abramovich wants to hand the stewardship of the club to trustees of its charitable foundation, removing himself from club matters and operations on a day-to-day basis.

Many commentators have pointed out that Abramovich’s statement made no mention to Russia nor what is actually happening in Ukraine. Sky Sports pundit and former Manchester United right-back Gary Neville criticized the statements from Abramovich and Chelsea as “meaningless.”

“Chelsea charity trustees are not running the football club - executives and directors will (be) under the guidance of Roman Abramovich. So I don’t know why he thought, or those close to him thought it was going to wash. What he has done is try to use the charity as a shield, which I don't think is impressive as a leader.”

Chelsea Foundation trustees have not yet agreed to take over the club after Abramovich’s statement. The six trustees want more information about whether running the club could be compatible with UK charity law and whether Mr. Abramovich's proposal can truly be put into action. 

The government has yet to sanction Abramovich despite considering their options following the 2014 Russian annexation of Crimea and the 2018 poisonings of former Russian agents Sergei Skrpal and his daughter Yulia in Salisbury, England.

Abramovich, Chelsea and his lawyers have consistently denied that Abramovich is close to Putin, arguing he is simply a successful Russian businessman.

The billionaire’s spokesman says Abramovich has been asked by Ukraine to help support their attempts to reach a “peaceful solution” with Russia. 

FIFA

updated: FIFA is set to suspend Russia from competing in international games until further notice.

FIFA has informed Russia that it would need to complete their forthcoming games in neutral territory under the name of the Football Union of Russia without their flag and anthem following the invasion of Ukraine.

A number of countries have already announced they will refuse to play Russia, including Poland, the Czech Republic, Sweden, England and Wales. As things stand Russia was meant to face Poland (before potentially facing either Sweden or the Czech Republic should they win) in March for the World Cup 2022 play-offs.

Polish Football Association president Cezary Kulesza called FIFA’s decision, “totally unacceptable”.

“We are not interested in participating in this game of appearances. Our stance remains intact: Polish National Team will not play Russia, no matter what the name of the team is,” Kulesza said.

FIFA has said that talks will take place with other sporting governing bodies over whether Russia should be expelled from all competitions.

“FIFA will continue its ongoing dialogue with the International Olympic Committee, UEFA and other sport organizations to determine any additional measures or sanctions, including a potential exclusions from competitions, that shall be applied in the near future should the situation not be improving rapidly.”

International Olympic Committee

FIFA seems to have been influenced by the approach of the IOC who in the heady days of early February punished Russia for state sponsored doping after it was first revealed in 2016 that at least 15 medal winners from the 2014 Olympics held in Sochi, were implicated in the years-long scheme.

Russian athletes during the 2022 Winter Olympics competed under the name of the “Russian Olympic Committee” or ROC.

The International Olympic Committee urged sports bodies on Friday to cancel or move all events planned to be held in Russia and Belarus and to stop using the countries flags and anthems.

Russia breached the Olympic Truce by invading Ukraine on Thursday, only four days after the closing ceremony of the Winter Games in Beijing. This is the third Russian breach of the Olympic Truce during the past 14 years. Russia invaded Georgia during the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, and annexed Crimea after the end of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.

FINA, which oversees swimming, diving and other water sports have announced changes to three events planned to be held in Russia. A water polo match between Russia and Greece will not be held in St. Petersburg and an artistic swimming and diving competition in April has been canceled. FINA has also announced that the World Junior Swimming Championships that were set to take place in Kazan, Russia, in August, have been canceled.

Volleyball, shooting and hockey all have world championships scheduled to be held in Russia over the coming years, with Finland considering it impossible for Russian and Belarusian ice hockey teams to participate in the 2022 World Cup they are hosting.

The International Gymnastics Federation (FIG) has announced that Russian and Belarusian national flags will not be displayed, and the two countries national anthems will not be played at any FIG sanctioned event. The Fig has also canceled all World Cup and World Challenge Cup events scheduled for Russia and Belarus.

International Ski Federation (FIS)

Five World Cup skiing events scheduled to take place in Russia have been canceled or moved, the International Ski Federation (FIS) said on Friday after Russia invaded Ukraine. 

The Ski Cross World Cup and Aerials World Cup were to be held over the weekend in Sunny Valley and Yaroslavl in Russia. In March, Russia was also scheduled to host Ski Jumping World Cup events in Nizhny Tagil and Chaikovsky and a Cross Country World Cup was to be held in Tyumen. These events have all been canceled.

“FIS has decided that in the interest of the safety of all participants and to maintain the integrity of the World Cup, that all remaining World Cup events scheduled to take place in Russia between now and the end of the 2021-22 season will be canceled or moved to another location,” FIS said in a statement. “Participants are already on site at the two World Cup events that were planned for the weekend (Ski Cross and Aerials) and FIS is working closely with the involved stakeholders to ensure their quick return back home.”

WBC, WBA, IBF and WBO

The four governing organizations responsible for planning boxing matches around the world announced in a statement that they won’t sanction any bouts in Russia due to the invasion of Ukraine.

Former heavyweight champion Vitali Klitschko, the mayor of Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv, said on Thursday last week that he was taking up arms to defend his country. His brother and former heavyweight world champion Wladimir Klitschko enlisted in Ukraine’s reserve army earlier this month in anticipation of the attack.

On Sunday the current WBA, IBF and WBO heavyweight world champion Oleksandr Usyk became the latest to sign up and fight for his country. Usyk has joined the defense forces in  Kyiv. Usyk who defeated Anthony Joshua in a heavyweight title fight billed as The Perfect Storm in September 2021 was set to meet Joshua in a rematch that was projected to take place in May or June.

Usyk’s close friend and three-division boxing champion, Vasiliy Lomachenko, has also enlisted with the Belgorod-Dniester Terror Defense Battalion for the territorial defense of his hometown. One of the best pound-for-pound boxers on the planet, he’s understood to be joining the resistance near the city of Odessa in the South of Ukraine.

Formula 1

An F1 statement said it has been agreed after a meeting between stakeholders “that it is impossible to hold the Russian Grand Prix in the current circumstances.”

The Russian Grand Prix was due to take place on September 25 in Soch. The race is closely associated with Putin, who was instrumental in bringing it to the Black Sea resort town, where he has a palace.

On Thursday after the invasion was launched, four-time champion Sebastian Vettel confirmed he would not race in Russia if the race were to go ahead.

“I should not go, I will not go. It is wrong to race in the country.” The German said. “I am sorry for the innocent people who are being killed for stupid reasons and a very strange and mad leadership.”

Meanwhile Haas team boss Gunther Steiner has said the future of Russian driver Nikia Mazepin, “needs to be resolved. There are governments involved and I have no power over them and we need to see how the situation develops in Ukraine.”

The US-based team are trying to dissociate from Mazepin and the sponsorship money that comes from his father Dmitriy, a Russian billionaire with close ties to Vladimir Putin. Haas F1 team have already removed advertising from Mazepin's father’s company and changed the color scheme of the car which had previously echoed the Russian flag.

International Judo Federation

Russia’s Sergey Soloveychik, the president of the European Judo Union, has resigned from his post on Sunday, referencing the “heartache that we see the people in brotherly countries die.”

The International Judo Federation (IJF) has suspended Vladimir Putin’s status as Honorary President and Ambassador of the federation due to the ongoing conflict in Ukraine. The Russian president is a keen judoka and attended the sport at the 2012 London Olympics.

On Friday the IJF canceled the 2022 Grand Slam in Kazan which was to be held from May 20-22.

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