‘Inconceivable’ for Russia to hold Champions League final, claims UK PM
Russia must be stripped of the right to host the 2022 UEFA Champions League final, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said. The football showpiece is set to be held on May 28 in St. Petersburg.
Speaking on Tuesday as he unveiled new sanctions against Russian individuals and financial institutions, Johnson told UK lawmakers he thought it was “inconceivable that major international football tournaments can take place in Russia after… the invasion of a sovereign country.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin announced on Monday that Moscow would formally recognize the breakaway republics of the Donetsk People's Republic (DPR) and Lugansk People's Republic (LPR) in the Donbass region. Putin has also ordered Russian troops into the region as a peacekeeping force.
The move has enraged Ukraine and its Western allies, although Russia says it has taken the step to safeguard the local populations after widespread reports of shelling from Ukraine and other military activity.
Moscow has denied it has aggressive intentions or is seeking to launch an invasion of Ukraine.
The fallout has included sport, where some reports have claimed that UEFA is “almost certain” to move the Champions League final from St. Petersburg.
The city’s 68,000-seater Gazprom Arena – also known as Krestovsky Stadium – is set to become the second Russian venue to hold the event after Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium hosted the final in 2008.
UEFA said it was “monitoring the situation,” but added that “at present, there are no plans to change the venue.”
The head of the St. Petersburg local organizing committee, Alexey Sorokin, said on Tuesday that discussions had not been held on the issue.
“We do not pay attention to various comments from the British media,” Sorokin told TASS.
“We’ve been dealing with this for the last 15 years – since 2008, when something was supposedly going to be taken from us.
“UEFA is a large international sports organization, it operates outside a political context. The organizing committee and UEFA haven’t had any discussions on this topic and can’t have any.
“We’re preparing for the final as planned. We’re awaiting the arrival of more than 50,000 foreign fans.”
UK PM Johnson has past history of criticizing Russia and its hosting of major events. Ahead of the 2018 FIFA World Cup, when he was serving as foreign secretary, Johnson claimed that the event was like Nazi Germany hosting the 1936 Olympics.
The futuristic Gazprom Arena which is slated to host the 2022 Champions League final is home to Russian giants Zenit St. Petersburg, and welcomed matches at the 2018 World Cup and 2020 UEFA European Championship.