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UEFA moves Champions League final from Russia to Paris as sports world grapples with conflict

A poster promoting the Champions League final in St. Petersburg's Krestovsky Stadium in September. (Anatoly Maltsev/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock)

The Union of European Football Associations announced Friday that it would move the Champions League final out of Russia in response to the nation’s attack on Ukraine.

European soccer’s governing body said it would relocate the May 28 final, the biggest club soccer match in the world, from Gazprom Arena in St. Petersburg to Paris.

The game will be played at Stade de France in St. Denis.

“UEFA wishes to express its thanks and appreciation to French Republic President Emmanuel Macron for his personal support and commitment to have European club football’s most prestigious game moved to France at a time of unparalleled crisis,” UEFA said in a Friday statement. “Together with the French government, UEFA will fully support multi-stakeholder efforts to ensure the provision of rescue for football players and their families in Ukraine who face dire human suffering, destruction and displacement.”

Live updates: The latest news from the Russian attack on Ukraine

UEFA’s executive committee also decided that Russian and Ukrainian clubs and national teams competing in UEFA competitions will be required to play their home matches at neutral venues until further notice, the statement said.

On Thursday, UEFA released a statement saying it “strongly condemns the ongoing Russian military invasion in Ukraine. … We remain resolute in our solidarity with the football community in Ukraine and stand ready to extend our hand to the Ukrainian people.”

The move of the final is the most significant development so far as governing bodies of international sports consider their responses to the escalating situation in Eastern Europe. Later onFriday, Formula One released a statement about its race scheduled to be held in Sochi in September, saying, “It is impossible to hold the Russian Grand Prix in the current circumstances.”

Support for moving the Champions League final coalesced in the United Kingdom, with Prime Minister Boris Johnson among those who called for the match to be relocated. Four English clubs — Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City and Manchester United — are among the final 16 teams in the Champions League competition.

“A Russia that is more isolated, a Russia that has pariah status — [there is] no chance of holding football tournaments in a Russia that invades sovereign countries,” Johnson said this week in the House of Commons.

Complicating matters was the fact that UEFA and several major European soccer clubs have significant Russian ties.

The UEFA executive committee includes Alexander Dyukov, the chief executive of Gazprom, a Russian state-owned energy corporation, who also is the former president of club Zenit St. Petersburg and the current president of the Russian Football Union.

The RFU issued a statement quoting Dyukov on Friday denouncing UEFA’s decision: “We believe that the decision to move the venue for the Champions League final was dictated by political reasons,” the statement read in Russian. “The RFU always adheres to the principle of ‘sport is out of politics.’ ”

German club Schalke 04, which is sponsored by Gazprom, announced that it would remove the company’s logo from its jerseys. According to multiple reports Friday, Manchester United said it was ending its partnership with Russian airline Aeroflot, a major sponsor.

Chelsea, which beat Manchester City in last year’s Champions League final, is owned by Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich. Abramovich’s background was discussed in British Parliament on Thursday, when Chris Bryant, a member of the Labour Party, said in the House of Commons that he has documents dating back from 2019 that show “illicit finance and malign activity” by Abramovich, who has owned Chelsea since 2003.

“Surely Mr. Abramovich should no longer be able to own a football club in this country?” Bryant said.

Elsewhere, the Ukrainian Premier League suspended operations for 30 days, citing in a statement President Volodymyr Zelensky’s decision to impose martial law. A group of Brazilian players based in Ukraine posted a video on social media in which they called for support from Brazilian authorities.

“Really the desperation is high,” Shakhtar Donetsk defender Marlon Santos wrote in Portuguese in an Instagram post accompanying the video, in which the players appeared with their families. “We are living in chaos. We are getting support from our club. But the desperation is agonizing. And we expect support from our country.”

Upcoming World Cup qualifiers also could be disrupted, though FIFA, soccer’s international governing body, has yet to announce a decision. Russia is set to host Poland in Moscow on March 24, and Ukraine is set to play in Scotland that day. Sweden plays the Czech Republic on the same date, and the winner of that match is lined up to face the Russia-Poland winner in another qualifier March 29. On Thursday, the football associations of Poland, Sweden and the Czech Republic issued a joint statement saying they would not travel to Russia to play there and called on FIFA and UEFA to “present alternative solutions.”

Beyond soccer, the International Olympic Committee said in a statement Friday that it urges all international sports federations to relocate or cancel events that are planned to be held in Russia or Belarus and added that no Russian or Belarusian flag should be displayed or those countries’ national anthems played at any international sporting event.

The IOC executive board “expresses its deep concerns about the safety of the members of the Olympic Community in Ukraine and stands in full solidarity,” the statement read.

The International Ski Federation announced Friday that all remaining World Cup events scheduled to take place in Russia between now and the end of the season will be canceled or moved to another location.

Formula One said in its statement Friday that it is “watching the developments in Ukraine with sadness and shock and hope for a swift and peaceful resolution to the present situation.”

On Thursday, before the auto racing circuit said it would not hold the Russian Grand Prix as things stand now, Sebastian Vettel, a four-time Formula One champion, said he planned to skip the race.

“I woke up to this morning’s news shocked. I think it’s horrible to see what is happening. Obviously, if you look at the calendar, we have a race scheduled in Russia,” Vettel said, via the AP, at preseason testing in Barcelona. “My own opinion is I should not go, I will not go. I think it’s wrong to race in the country. I’m sorry for the innocent people that are losing their lives, that are getting killed [for] stupid reasons and a very strange and mad leadership.”

War in Ukraine: What you need to know

The latest: Russia fired at least 85 missiles on at least six major cities in Ukraine on November 15, in one of the most widespread attacks of the war so far. The strikes came just hours after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, speaking by video link, presented a 10-point peace plan to G-20 leaders at a summit in Indonesia. As in previous Russian missile attacks, critical civilian infrastructure appeared to be primary targets. Parts of several cities that were hit were left without electrical power on Tuesday afternoon.

Russia’s Gamble: The Post examined the road to war in Ukraine, and Western efforts to unite to thwart the Kremlin’s plans, through extensive interviews with more than three dozen senior U.S., Ukrainian, European and NATO officials.

Photos: Washington Post photographers have been on the ground from the beginning of the war — here’s some of their most powerful work.

How you can help: Here are ways those in the U.S. can support the Ukrainian people as well as what people around the world have been donating.

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