Russia have launched a “full-scale invasion” of Ukraine today in what is already being called the “most significant” European war for almost 80 years (i.e. since World War II; guess the Yugoslav Wars don’t count?) and the “greatest security crisis” since the Cold War ended in 1991.
It’s tough to care too much about football amid such developments — especially if this conflict continues to escalate into civilian casualties, which seems unavoidable, or continues to broaden in scope and impact, a not-unfounded fear back in my homeland, which sits on the Eastern front of NATO and the EU, for example. But European football continues on largely unaffected for now, outside of the quickly suspended Ukrainian Premier League, including tonight’s Europa League games, even the one involving Zenit St Petersburg, away to Real Betis.
One thing that has changed is UEFA stripping St Petersburg of this year’s Champions League final, which they were set to host after getting bumped last year by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Chelsea thus won it in Porto instead.
The new venue is supposed to be announced tomorrow. Wembley’s reportedly not really in the running (already have the 2024 final scheduled), nor is any other stadium in England, with locations in Rome, Munich, Paris, Amsterdam, and Barcelona apparently being considered.
The influence, especially financial, of Russian money and companies on football is also being drawn (back) into strong focus. Schalke 04 have already removed all mentions and instances of shirt sponsors Gazprom, for example. UEFA have not yet divested themselves from one of their major sponsors however.
And of course Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich is under scrutiny once again as well, this time by the UK government, claiming corruption and (still ongoing) close ties to Putin’s oligarchy. It’s unclear to me how seriously these calls for potentially seizing all of Abramovich’s assets in the UK should be taken right now, but it’s part of the UK’s (and the western world’s) efforts to try to put the economic hurt on Russia.
It should be noted that Abramovich has been barred from actually working in the UK for almost four years now, but has also recently won a libel case against similar accusations published in a book. He has continued to fund Chelsea as necessary, and support various organizations and charitable efforts, including the NHS and our own Say No To Antisemitism campaign. The Chelsea owner has recently acquired Israeli and Portuguese citizenships as well.