Champions League final will be played in Paris, not Russia

Saturday, February 26th, 2022 02:43 | By

European soccer’s governing body on Friday voted to move this season’s Champions League final, the showcase game on the continent’s sporting calendar, to Paris as punishment for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The game, on May 28, had been scheduled to be played in St. Petersburg, in a stadium built for 2018 World Cup and financed by the Russian energy giant Gazprom, a major UEFA sponsor. Instead, it will take place at the Stade de France, in the northern Paris suburb of Saint-Denis. It will be the first time France has hosted the final since 2006.

UEFA also decided that it would relocate any games in tournaments it controls that were to be played in Russia and Ukraine, whether involving clubs or national teams. At the moment, that affects only a single club match: Spartak Moscow’s next home game in the second-tier Europa League.

But UEFA’s move to punish Russia will put new pressure on world soccer’s governing body, FIFA, to move a World Cup qualifying match set for Moscow next month.

On Thursday the soccer federations from Poland, Czech Republic and Sweden wrote to FIFA calling for Russia to be banned from hosting playoff games for the 2022 World Cup that are scheduled for next month. Poland is scheduled to play Russia in Moscow on March 24. If Russia wins that game, it would host the winner of the game between the Czechs and Sweden in a match to decide one of Europe’s final places in the World Cup in Qatar later this year.

“The military escalation that we are observing entails serious consequences and considerably lower safety for our national football teams and official delegations,” the federations wrote in a joint statement. They called on FIFA — which has authority over the games — and UEFA to immediately present “alternative solutions” for sites that were not on Russian soil.

UEFA had in recent days been lobbied extensively privately and publicly by British officials about moving the Champions League final to London. That idea was quickly rejected, however, for logistical reasons as well as unease about the game’s becoming a political tool for British lawmakers who have often used soccer to score points at home and abroad. Britain’s foreign secretary, for example, this week suggested British teams that should boycott the game if they qualified and it was not moved out of Russia.

Paris emerged as the top candidate to replace St. Petersburg because it had not hosted the game since 2006 and because France currently holds the rotating presidency of the Council of the European Union, one of the bloc’s key decision-making bodies.

The UEFA president, Aleksander Ceferin, travelled to the French capital on Thursday to meet with France’s president, Emmanuel Macron, to finalize the agreement.

It will be the third straight year the Champions League final has had to be relocated, with the two most recent editions shifted to Portugal because of coronavirus concerns.

The final in Paris also will be the first time since the outbreak of the coronavirus that the game will be played in a full stadium. The 2020 final was played without spectators as part of a bubble-like environment created to finish the competition’s remaining game, while last year's restrictions meant only a quarter of the Dragão stadium in Porto was allowed to be populated.

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