According to Western information, Russia has massed more than 100,000 soldiers on the border with Ukraine for months. Although Russia denies any plans to attack, NATO allies recently made it clear that they believe Russian President Vladimir Putin is preparing to invade Ukraine.
The conflict could also become a serious issue for the European football union UEFA:
Uefa: “No plans to change venue at this time”
When asked by Sportschau whether there were any plans to change the venue, whether an invasion could change the thinking and whether financial commitments might speak against relocating the game, UEFA responded with just one sentence: “UEFA is continuously and closely monitoring the situation. There are currently no plans to change the venue.”
Instead, preparations are underway. A UEFA delegation visited the stadium on Thursday (02/10/2022). According to a report by the Russian state news agency TASS, the main focus was on the corona virus. “Of course we are now starting a lot of work in terms of epidemiological safety. It is a priority.”, Saint Petersburg’s Deputy Governor Boris Piotrovsky said accordingly. UEFA did not answer whether their delegation also raised the issue of Ukraine.
MEPs: “Last venue I would wish for”
Green MEP Viola von Cramon would like UEFA to take a different approach. “Russia is probably the last venue I can think of for a final of the Champions League would wish”she says in an interview with the sports show and makes a clear demand: “If Russia attacks Ukraine again, it must be clear that St. Petersburg cannot be the venue. Any responsible sports official should agree with that. Then UEFA must not align itself with the attacker and must distance itself.”
However, there has been little distance between UEFA, the Russian association and the state-owned company Gazprom for years – which is why moving the final from the Gazprom Arena in Saint Petersburg to another stadium would be explosive in terms of sporting policy.
Gazprom is polishing up its image as a UEFA sponsor
The Moscow-based gas company based in Saint Petersburg has been one of UEFA’s major sponsors since 2012. The company appears in the environment of Champions Leaguethe partnership was launched last year for the EM 2021 and the Nations League expanded. When asked by the sports show, UEFA did not answer what amount is now due for the sponsorship.
Russia’s influence in UEFA has grown over the years via Gazprom, a geostrategic instrument of power. At first glance, the advertising value of sponsorship for Gazprom seems low, after all it is largely impossible for an end user in Europe to become a customer of Gazprom. But the state-owned energy giant is polishing up its image.
“The perimeter advertising can be seen in every game, it makes a mark”says the MP from Cramon. “You show yourself as a reliable partner who delivers. That creates a positive mood, Russia uses it very strategically.” In addition, there is access to V.I.P-Stadium boxes where you can easily hold diplomatic or business talks.
UEFA officials with direct line to Gazprom
Russia has also been established at the decision-making level of UEFA for years. Gazprom officials have an important say in UEFA, as a look at the personal details in the relevant bodies over the past few years shows. The last Russian officials to sit on the UEFA Executive Committee or on the FIFA Council on behalf of UEFA all had a connection with the company.
This also applies to Alexander Dyukov, a member of the UEFA executive board since 2021. He was president of Zenit Saint Petersburg, is now president of the Russian association and chairman of the board of Gazprom subsidiary Gazprom Neft. Whether these interdependencies influence decisions about the award of the final of the Champions League in the Gazprom Arena in Saint Petersburg, UEFA did not comment on this either.
Pandemic forced UEFA to reschedule the final
UEFA also brought the time factor into the current situation. In 2019, the Executive Committee had several final venues of the Champions League set early until 2023. Due to the corona pandemic, UEFA withdrew Istanbul from the final in 2020 and then again in 2021. The promised finals at the other venues were sometimes rescheduled several times.
In this way, Saint Petersburg was set for the year 2022, although originally it should have been played there in 2021. That and the postponement of the European Championship from 2020 to 2021 clearly show that UEFA is always capable of changing its plans at short notice.