There is no time to waste – strip the Champions League final from thug Vladimir Putin's hands

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Since discussions on the subject have apparently been going on for some days in the corridors of Nyon, you would imagine the question of whether Russia gets to stage the Champions League final, at the St Petersburg stadium which was a Vladimir Putin vanity project, would have been resolved by UEFA now.

But this is sport we are discussing, a realm where money talks and any notion of a moral compass has vanished. 

So, as of Tuesday night, all we had from the governing body was the kind of nauseating press-release-speak which we have become painfully accustomed to, as narcissists like Putin have bathed in sport’s reflected glories.

‘We are constantly and closely monitoring the situation,’ UEFA said in a statement. ‘Any decision would be made in due course, if necessary.’

The chances of the venue being moved do exist. Holding the event in the Russian city would be an embarrassment against this backdrop. But for now, nothing. 

While millions of people the world over burn with indignation at Putin’s annexation of a free, independent sovereign nation, UEFA are just hoping that the strength of England’s football teams will come to their help. 

If all four make the semis, they might just get away with moving the final to England. 

UEFA are reportedly considering stripping Russia of hosting this season's Champions League final, which is due to take place at St Petersburg stadium (pictured) in May

UEFA are reportedly considering stripping Russia of hosting this season’s Champions League final, which is due to take place at St Petersburg stadium (pictured) in May

The final is due to take place in Saint Petersburg and the situation should have been resolved

The final is due to take place in Saint Petersburg and the situation should have been resolved 

UEFA, like so many businesses in football, are conflicted as they are up to their neck in Russian money. 

The Russian state energy outfit Gazprom pays £30million a year to sponsor the Champions League and last summer announced an expansion of that deal to include the European Championship and the Champions and Europa Leagues. 

It also holds the naming rights for the stadium at which the final is due to be played, the Gazprom Arena.

‘UEFA can’t afford to see a high-profile sponsor walk away,’ one financial analyst said yesterday, steeped in the numbers when there was clearly a far bigger picture to see.

There is no doubt that sport has the capability to hurt ice hockey-loving Putin, who is always so desperate for its promotional riches. 

When the Russian president won the Sochi Winter Olympics in 2014 and discovered his nation’s athletes were inadequate, he put them through the state-sponsored cheating operation which was later uncovered by WADA.

St Petersburg stadium, which was a Vladimir Putin (pictured) vanity project, is due to host the showpiece final in May

St Petersburg stadium, which was a Vladimir Putin (pictured) vanity project, is due to host the showpiece final in May

Thomas Bach, president of the International Olympic Committee, made sure Russia was never properly banned for that doping outrage

Thomas Bach, president of the International Olympic Committee, made sure Russia was never properly banned for that doping outrage

Yet there never seem to be any consequences. Russia’s great friend Thomas Bach, president of the International Olympic Committee, saw to it that the country has never been properly banned from competition for that doping outrage. UEFA’s response has been no different.

The decision that the St Petersburg Stadium — built for the 2018 World Cup — should be selected for the May 28 final was astonishing given that the doping scandal means Russia will be banned from November’s World Cup in Qatar, should they even qualify.

They will play, of course, but under a ‘neutral flag’. The team were free to play at last summer’s Euros because the tournament was technically not defined as a ‘major event organisation’ and so did not fall within the aegis of the WADA ban.

That is how Russia gets away with it in sport, a technicality here and a sleight of hand there. And when anyone dares to challenge them, we get the same squeals of conspiracy from this mendacious, risible regime. 

When Sportsmail, in the aftermath of the Salisbury poisonings, questioned the legitimacy of the nation hosting the 2018 World Cup, Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs published an image of our page and complained of ‘a full-scale Western media campaign to discredit Russia and undermine its credibility as the host of this sporting event’.

The doping scandal means Russia would be banned from November's World Cup in Qatar, should they qualify

The doping scandal means Russia would be banned from November’s World Cup in Qatar, should they qualify

Russia were free to play at last summer's Euros because the event was technically not defined as a 'major event organisation'

Russia were free to play at last summer’s Euros because the event was technically not defined as a ‘major event organisation’

UEFA were not the only backsliders on Tuesday. You also wondered if Manchester United would be immediately severing links which make Aeroflot, the airline 57 per cent owned by the Russian Federation, their official ‘global carrier’. 

That cosy relationship allows Aeroflot to declare on United’s website that the club and airline ‘share values’.

Aeroflot was a laughing stock until the Russians turned to Britain’s biggest global football club for help, paying United £40million a year for a sponsorship deal which often sees the team fly to Champions League away games on the Russian jumbos.

Aeroflot is not only Putin’s airline of choice but the one that assassins and would-be assassins from the Russian security services choose to use.

Anna Politkovskaya, the hugely courageous Russian journalist whose hard-hitting, independent work held a light to the state machine, was poisoned after drinking tea given to her by an Aeroflot flight attendant in September 2004. She was shot dead in Moscow two years later.

Manchester United have Aeroflot, the airline 57 per cent owned by the Russian Federation, as their official 'global carrier'

Manchester United have Aeroflot, the airline 57 per cent owned by the Russian Federation, as their official ‘global carrier’

The Salisbury assassins, whose Novichok poison killed a local mother of three in October 2014, also flew in and out of the country on Aeroflot. To say the airline’s executives were not much help to British security services at the time is putting it mildly.

United certainly got the optics right on Tuesday when they did not fly to Madrid on an Aeroflot jumbo and commissioned a Titan Airways plane instead. But would they actually sever this link? 

There was no statement back from the club on this, though they did let it be known that they will ‘continue to partner Aeroflot’ and consider the partnership ‘to be with the airline, not the government’.

At Westminster, politicians found the kind of rage you would expect. ‘We won’t allow President Putin to exploit events on the world stage to legitimise his illegal invasion of Ukraine,’ tweeted Nadine Dorries MP, the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, demanding that Russia be stripped of the St Petersburg final.

But demands like that are tumbleweed unless those running sport dispense with the PR nonsense and find the moral fibre that this moment demands. 

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