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UEFA switches Saint Petersburg’s Champions League final to Stade de France

UEFA has today (Friday) moved the staging of the 2021-22 Champions League final from Saint Petersburg to Paris, following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The Executive Committee of European football’s governing body today held an extraordinary meeting following what UEFA described as the “grave escalation of the security situation in Europe”.

Having originally been due to be played at Gazprom Arena, home of Russian Premier League club Zenit Saint Petersburg, this season’s Champions League final will now be held at the Stade de France in the Saint-Denis commune of the French capital. The game will be played as initially scheduled on May 28 at 9pm CET.

UEFA said in a statement: “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.

“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.”

UEFA on Tuesday said it was “constantly and closely monitoring the situation”, with regards whether the Champions League final could take place as planned. Today’s announcement marks the third year in a row that UEFA has been forced to move the final away from its original venue.

Last year, the final between Chelsea and Manchester City was played at the Estádio do Dragão in Porto instead of Istanbul’s Atatürk Olympic Stadium after Turkey was added to the UK’s red list of COVID-19 travel destinations.

Istanbul had also been due to host the 2020 Champions League final before UEFA took the decision to stage a final eight-style tournament in Portugal amid the difficulties posed by COVID-19. Istanbul is now set to host the final in 2023.

The 67,000-seat Gazprom Arena, which also hosted matches during last summer’s UEFA European Championship, was originally awarded the 2021 Champions League final as part of a multi-event award back in September 2019, which also saw the 2022 and 2023 games assigned to Munich and London, respectively.

However, these three hosting decisions were each moved back a year in June 2020 as UEFA sought to reorganise its events amid the challenges of COVID-19.

At today’s meeting, the ExCo 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.

UEFA added: “The UEFA Executive Committee further determined to remain on standby to convene further extraordinary meetings, on a regular ongoing basis where required, to reassess the legal and factual situation as it evolves and adopt further decisions as necessary.”

Russian Grand Prix

Meanwhile, Russia has lost another major event today, with Formula 1 stating it has removed the Russian Grand Prix from its 2022 calendar.

This year’s edition of the Russian GP was due to take place on September 23-25 in Sochi, but pressure has been building on the motor racing championship to take a stance amid the situation in Ukraine.

Four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel said yesterday that he would boycott the Russian GP if F1 chose to race there, while reigning world champion Max Verstappen said it would be wrong to race in a country that is at war.

Formula 1 said in a statement today: “The FIA Formula 1 World Championship visits countries all over the world with a positive vision to unite people, bringing nations together. We are watching the developments in Ukraine with sadness and shock and hope for a swift and peaceful resolution to the present situation.

“On Thursday evening Formula 1, the FIA (International Automobile Federation), and the teams discussed the position of our sport, and the conclusion is, including the view of all relevant stakeholders, that it is impossible to hold the Russian Grand Prix in the current circumstances.”

This year’s race was due to be the last at the Sochi Autodrom. In June, Formula 1 announced that the Russian Grand Prix would move from Sochi to the Autodrom Igora Drive circuit near Saint Petersburg from 2023.

Image: Zakarie Faibis/CC BY-SA 4.0/Edited for size