By ROB HARRIS, AP Global Soccer Writer
LONDON (AP) — Russia was stripped of hosting the Champions League final by UEFA on Friday, with St. Petersburg replaced by Paris after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine led to punitive measures in the sports world.
The showpiece final of the European men’s football season will still be held on May 28 but now at the 80,000-seater Stade de France in the Saint-Denis suburb of the French capital following the decision of the UEFA executive committee.
This follows talks led by UEFA President Aleksander Ceferin which have involved the European Commission and French President Emmanuel Macron in recent days after concerns were raised about the status of Russia retaining such a prestigious event after its aggression against another European country.
UEFA thanked Macron for his “personal support and commitment to moving the most prestigious game in European club football to France at a time of unprecedented crisis”.
Alexander Dyukov, a Russian member of the UEFA executive committee, complained that the decision was made for “political reasons”. Dyukov also objected to UEFA ordering Russian clubs and national teams to play at neutral venues until further notice – a decision also imposed on Ukrainian teams.
The move comes as Russian bombs and troops pounded Ukraine in the first full day of the invasion, and world leaders on Friday began to fine-tune a response meant to punish the Russian economy and its leaders, including President Vladimir Putin’s inner circle.
The French government will also work with UEFA to help rescue footballers and their families who “face terrible human suffering, destruction and displacement”, European football’s governing body said in a statement.
There is the unresolved question of Russia still to host Poland in the semi-finals of the World Cup qualifiers in Moscow. Poland wants the game out of Russia, but FIFA has yet to decide.
UEFA were more decisive in organizing the Champions League final, which was hailed by the British government.
“Russia must not be allowed to exploit sporting and cultural events on the world stage to legitimize its unprovoked, premeditated and unnecessary attack on a sovereign democratic state,” said UK Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries, head of the sports record.
It is the third year in a row that UEFA have had to change venues for the Champions League final after two changes due to coronavirus concerns.
The Stade de France last hosted the Champions League final 16 years ago, when Barcelona beat Arsenal in the 2006 final.
The 68,000-capacity Saint Petersburg Stadium was originally chosen in 2019 to host the final in 2021. This was postponed for a year due to fallout from the disruptions caused by the pandemic.
The stadium is named after Russian state energy company Gazprom, which is also one of UEFA’s main sponsors of the Champions League and European Championship.
UEFA has two weeks before the next round of Champions League games to fix the issue of Gazprom adverts flashing around stadium pitches. Furthering the company’s close ties with UEFA, Dyukov is CEO of a Gazprom subsidiary and sits on European football’s highest decision-making body.
The Gazprom logo has already been removed this week from the jerseys of German club Schalke, but it remains a sponsor.
Manchester United have yet to drop state-owned Russian airline Aeroflot as a sponsor despite the company being banned in Britain on Thursday under sanctions.
Outside of football, the International Ski Federation has announced that Russia will no longer stage its World Cup events this winter. The decision came after a far-fetched attempt to hold ski cross races Friday in the Urals resort Sunny Valley a day after Russia began an invasion of Ukraine.
Only a handful of Russians took the start and dozens of riders from all other countries did not participate. The FIS cited “the safety of all participants and maintaining the integrity of the World Cup” for canceling five events scheduled for next month. Replacement locations are being sought.
In Formula 1, the American team Haas dropped sponsorship from Russian company Uralkali during pre-season testing in Barcelona. Nikita Mazepin de Haas is the only Russian driver on the F1 grid this season.
AP Sports Writer Graham Dunbar in Geneva contributed to this report.
Follow AP’s coverage of the Ukraine crisis at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine
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