UEFA strips Putin’s Russia of Champions League final as cultural isolation grows

February 25, 2022, 3:39 PM UTC

Economic sanctions targeting Russia in retaliation for its unprovoked invasion of Ukraine are beginning to spill over into every walk of life, further isolating Moscow.

The privilege of hosting and participating in sporting and cultural events that bring tourism and broadcast dollars to the Kremlin is now being pulled, either proactively or under pressure by activists or the stars themselves.

On Friday, Europe’s governing football body, UEFA, agreed to relocate the May 28 Champions League final, the most important match in European club competition, from Vladimir Putin’s hometown of St. Petersburg to Paris’s Stade de France. 

UEFA’s executive committee personally thanked French President Emmanuel Macron for his assistance in the decision following the “grave escalation of the security situation in Europe,” adding Russian and Ukrainian national and club teams must play all home games in neutral venues.

World football’s governing body, FIFA, is also under pressure to sanction the Russian team. The football associations of Poland, the Czech Republic, and Sweden said in a joint statement that they do not want to play their qualifying matches in Russia for this year’s 2022 World Cup. 

Storied English football club Manchester United said Friday that it withdrew sponsorship rights from Aeroflot after the U.K. government sanctioned Russia’s state carrier, saying it “shared the concerns of our fans around the world.”

Germany’s Schalke 04, a former top-tier club, decided in coordination with its main sponsor, [hotlink]Gazprom,[/hotlink] to remove the Russian state-controlled energy giant’s logo from its jersey. It also said the Nord Stream 2 chief executive Matthias Warnig, now sanctioned personally by the Biden administration, had agreed to step down from its board of directors.

Separately, Formula 1 organizers said it was “impossible” to hold the Russian Grand Prix race “in the current circumstances.” The decision followed pushback from champion drivers Sebastian Vettel, Max Verstappen, and Fernando Alonso. “When a country is at war, it is not right to race there,” said Verstappen. “I will not go. I think it’s wrong to race in that country,” said Vettel.

“We are watching the developments in Ukraine with sadness and shock, and hope for a swift and peaceful resolution,” the F1 said in a joint statement with motoring rules authority FIA and the F1 teams. 

With the race scheduled for late September, their open-ended wording did however suggest the racing series—known for hosting numerous competitions in autocratic states—intentionally left the door ajar to resume planning should circumstances change.

Outside the world of sports, Russia on Friday withdrew its entry from the high-profile Eurovision Song Contest after some co-organizers called for its expulsion from this year’s event, scheduled to take place in Turin, Italy, in early May. If Russia had won, it would have gained the right to host next year’s contest.

“I no longer want to remain silent,” said Eric van Stade, general manager of the Dutch broadcaster Avrotros, in a Friday statement that called on other countries to “speak out” and join the call for Russia’s expulsion from Eurovision’s organizing body, the European Broadcasting Union (EBU).

In a statement, the EBU said Russia’s inclusion would “bring the competition into disrepute.”

Meanwhile, cultural venues also were taking steps to exclude prominent Putin supporters from their program to avoid protests or boycotts.

Star conductor Valery Gergiev and pianist Denis Matsuev will no longer perform at New York City’s Carnegie Hall, with a spokeswoman telling the Independent the change was due to “recent world events.” The decision came ahead of a planned but now canceled protest by Ukrainian activists.

And in Finland, the cable provider Elisa said it would stop carrying RT, the state-owned Russian propaganda channel, in support of Ukraine. Germany’s media regulator banned RT (also known as Russia Today) in that country a few weeks ago, prompting the Russians to shutter the Moscow bureau of Germany’s Deutsche Welle TV channel.

This article was updated on Feb. 25 to include information about Russia’s nonparticipation in Eurovision.

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