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Terminated sponsorships, competition bans and event cancellations: How sport is responding to Russia’s war on Ukraine

Vladimir Putin’s decision to advance Russian troops into Ukraine has sent shockwaves across the world, but it has also forced sport to reassess its relationship with a nation whose recent sportswashing activities have helped it gain power and influence. Here, SportsPro documents how governing bodies, leagues and teams have reacted to the invasion.

1 March 2022 Sam Carp

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Benfica’s Ukrainian striker Roman Yaremchuk was moved to tears over the weekend as his teammates handed him the captain’s armband and the entire Estádio da Luz rose to its feet to show support in the wake of Russia’s invasion of its neighbour.

It was one of several shows of solidarity across sport in recent days as games and competitions were played out against a backdrop of blue and yellow, their outcomes rendered insignificant in comparison to what is currently unfolding in eastern Europe, where families have been torn apart and innocent lives lost.

After months of amassing troops on Ukraine’s border, Russia’s assault has been met with frantic condemnation by Western nations quick to label Vladimir Putin’s military action as an attack on democracy, freedom and peace. In some cases those statements of disapproval have morphed into more severe sanctions designed to cripple the Russian economy, while others are pledging aid to Ukraine in the form of weapons to assist its armed forces.

But sport, too, has been left to front up to its own relationship with Russia, a country whose cheques have been gleefully received by organisations willing to turn a blind eye to the motivations of a nation that has steadily hosted, sponsored and bought its way to a position of greater soft power, legitimacy and influence in recent years.

Here, SportsPro documents how governing bodies, leagues and teams from across the sports industry have been responding to Russia’s war on Ukraine.

All times listed are GMT

24th February

11am: The first dominoes start to fall in the hours following news that the Kremlin has ordered its troops into Ukraine. Before the morning is over, European soccer’s governing body Uefa confirms that it will hold an extraordinary meeting the following day, when it is expected that the Russian city of St Petersburg will be stripped of the right to host the Champions League final in May.

1pm: Formula One bosses face calls to cancel the Russian Grand Prix in September, not least from four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel, who threatens to boycott the event in Sochi if it goes ahead. The global motorsport series says that it is “closely watching” developments in Ukraine, but stops short of cancelling the race.

2pm: As various sports properties start to reassess their commercial relationships with Russian companies, second-tier German soccer club Schalke 04 make a brief statement saying that they will remove the logo of Russia’s state-owned gas firm Gazprom from their shirts.

German side Schalke covered up the Gazprom logo on their shirts during their game against Karlsruher

4pm: The soccer associations of Poland, Sweden and the Czech Republic issue a joint statement calling for Fifa World Cup playoff matches not to be played in Russia, which is scheduled to host the Polish national team in Moscow on 24th March. The winner of the tie between Sweden and the Czech Republic could face Russia for a place at Qatar 2022 should they beat Poland. At the same time, the Scottish Football Association (SFA) tells the PA news agency that it is in talks with Uefa about its own playoff encounter against Ukraine, whose domestic league is suspended because of the conflict.

7pm: World Athletics becomes one of the first global governing bodies to condemn Russia’s military invasion, stating that it is ‘appalled’ by the developments in Ukraine. Meanwhile, tennis’ ATP Challenger Tour announces that its tournament due to begin in Moscow of 28th February will not take place as scheduled because of ‘concerns over player safety’ and ‘uncertainty related to international travel’ following the attacks.

25th February

10am: Uefa confirms the widely expected news that St Petersburg has been stripped of the right to host the Champions League final, with the Stade de France in Paris stepping in. It is also decided that Russian and Ukrainian clubs and national teams competing in Uefa competitions will have to play their home games at neutral venues until told otherwise.

Various media outlets later report that the governing body is also in conversations with its lawyers about ending its sponsorship deal with Gazprom, which reportedly pays some €40 million a year to sponsor the Champions League and other competitions.

12pm: News of the Champions League final relocation is swiftly followed by confirmation from Formula One that ‘it is impossible’ to stage the Russian Grand Prix ‘in the current circumstances’.

12:30pm: English soccer giants Manchester United reveal that they have severed ties with their official airline partner and Russian flag carrier Aeroflot, whose deal with the club was reportedly worth UK£40 million over six years. United said in a statement that they ‘share the concerns of our fans around the world’.

2.30pm: In the same month that Putin attended the opening ceremony for the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) calls on all international federations to either relocate or cancel their events currently planned for Russia or Belarus. It is an unusually tough stance from the IOC, which has allowed Russian athletes to continue to compete at its events – including more than 200 at Beijing 2022 – in the wake of the country’s state-sponsored doping scandal in 2014.

4pm: Russian tennis player Andrey Rublev continues to publicise his opposition to his country’s invasion of Ukraine by writing ‘no war please’ on a television camera lens after beating Hubert Hurkacz to progress to the final of the Dubai Tennis Championships. It comes after Daniil Medvedev, now the number one ranked men’s player in the world, voiced his own support for peace.

“By being a tennis player, I want to promote peace all over the world,” he said. “We play in so many different countries. I’ve been in so many countries as a junior and as a pro. It’s just not easy to hear all this news. I’m all for peace.”

5pm: This year’s SportAccord World Sport and Business Summit in Ekaterinburg is cancelled just days after organisers insisted to Inside the Games that the event would go ahead as planned. The conference, which is the biggest global gathering of Olympic stakeholders, had already been postponed twice in 2021 because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

8pm: Like other major landmarks across Europe, sports venues including the Allianz Arena, Wembley Stadium and the Wanda Metropolitano end the working week lit up in the colours of the Ukrainian flag.

10.30pm: The International Judo Federation (IJF) laments ‘insufficient dialogue at international level’ as it calls off the 2022 Grand Slam in Kazan, Russia, which was due to be held from 20th to 22nd May.

26th February

8:30am: Cezary Kulesza, the president of the Polish Football Association (PZPN), says on Twitter than Poland will refuse to play against Russia in the pair’s upcoming World Cup playoff. The decision is backed up by star striker and captain Robert Lewandowski, who tweets:

3pm: Pressure grows on Fifa to take decisive action as Sweden joins Poland in saying that it will refuse to play against Russia in World Cup qualifying. It comes just four years after the world soccer body staged its flagship national team tournament in Russia and Fifa president Gianni Infantino had previously thanked the country for hosting the “best World Cup ever” when receiving a state medal from Putin.

4pm: The International Gymnastics Federation (FIG) becomes the latest to cancel all World Cup and World Challenge Cup events planned for Russia and Belarus, while it also says that all FIG-sanctioned competitions due to take place in the two countries will be removed from the calendar and no longer recognised by the governing body.

7pm: Chelsea’s billionaire owner Roman Abramovich hands the ‘stewardship and care’ of the team to its foundation trustees. ‘During my nearly 20-year ownership of Chelsea FC, I have always viewed my role as a custodian of the club, whose job it is ensuring that we are as successful as we can be today, as well as build for the future, while also playing a positive role in our communities,’ the Russian oligarch explained in a statement.

He added: ‘I believe that currently [the trustees] are in the best position to look after the interests of the club, players, staff, and fans.’

It is later reported that the move has little impact on Abramovich’s actual ownership of the club and is therefore seen as a strategic decision to distance the west London outfit from any links to Russia’s war with Ukraine. Abramovich, 55, has long downplayed his ties to Putin despite an alleged close relationship between the pair.

27th February

10am: Putin’s declaration of war sees him suspended as honorary president of the IJF, which cites ‘the ongoing war conflict in Ukraine’ as the reason for the decision. The weekend would see a number of statements fail to condemn Russia directly for its actions, with many sporting organisations adopting a position of neutrality.

5pm: Without directly referencing the Russian invasion, referring only to ‘the continuing war in Ukraine’, the International Swimming Federation (Fina) announces that it is cancelling August’s World Junior Swimming Championships scheduled for Kazan. The global swimming body adds that it will not be holding any future events in Russia ‘if this grave crisis continues’.

6pm: Oak View Group, the venue development company that provides services to facilities such as Seattle’s Climate Pledge Arena, announces that it will not do business in or with Russia. It also pledges not to serve Russian brands at any of its venues, hoping that its stance ‘inspires others’ in the industry to take action.

7pm: Fifa’s long-awaited statement misses the mark. Soccer’s global governing body decides to hide behind the approach long adopted by the IOC, which itself has been accused of being too lenient towards Russia in recent years by allowing the country’s athletes to compete under the Russian Olympic Committee (ROC) banner despite the nation’s doping ban.

The ‘initial measures’ imposed by Fifa mean Russia must play international soccer games in neutral countries under the name ‘Football Union of Russia’, while it also rules that no Russian flag or national anthem can be used at matches.

Kulesza promptly brands Fifa’s decision as ‘totally unacceptable’.

The Fifa announcement coincides with a statement from English soccer’s Football Association (FA), which becomes the latest governing body to confirm that its national team will not be playing games against Russia ‘at any level’ for the foreseeable future. It does not, however, make mention of Russia’s participation at this summer’s Uefa 2022 Women’s European Championship, which is taking place in England.

Fifa president Gianni Infantino with Vladimir Putin ahead of the 2018 World Cup finals draw

28th February

10am: After initially suspending the partnership, Schalke confirm that their long-running association with Gazprom is no more. The pair first teamed up in 2006 and their most recent three-year deal was reportedly worth €10 million per season.

2pm: With no sign of peace in Ukraine, the IOC paves the way for Fifa to ban Russia from the World Cup by releasing another statement in which it encourages international sports federations to exclude Russian and Belarusian athletes, officials and teams from their competitions wherever possible. While it marks an unprecedented, heavy-handed approach from the IOC, athlete advocacy group Global Athlete says the statement ‘falls short’ for not immediately suspending the Russian and Belarus national Olympic committees.

4pm: As the fallout continues, Euroleague Basketball announces the suspension of Russian federation teams in both the top-tier EuroLeague and EuroCup. The temporary ban covers four clubs: CSKA Moscow, UNICS Kazan, Zenit St Petersburg and Lokomotiv Kuban Krasnodar. The European basketball competition also says it has ‘frozen’ its sponsorship deal with Russian state-owned VTB Bank ‘amid the war initiated’ by the country.

5pm:  The World Curling Federation confirms that it will be removing Russian entries for the upcoming world championships should there be no objections during its three-day evaluation window.  

5.30pm: Just hours after the IOC announcement, Fifa and Uefa confirm that all Russian national and club sides will be suspended from their competitions ‘until further notice’. European soccer’s governing body also reveals that it has ended its deal with Gazprom, effective immediately, covering all existing agreements until 2024.

‘These decisions were adopted today by the Bureau of the Fifa Council and the executive committee of Uefa, respectively the highest decision-making bodies of both institutions on such urgent matters,’ a joint statement read.

‘Football is fully united here and in full solidarity with all the people affected in Ukraine. Both presidents hope that the situation in Ukraine will improve significantly and rapidly so that football can again be a vector for unity and peace amongst people.’

8pm: The National Hockey League (NHL) condemns Russia’s actions and suspends its relationships with its business partners in the country, as well as pausing its Russian-language social and digital channels. The league also bars Russia from staging any competitions involving the NHL and expresses concern for its Russian players and their families who, it says, are ‘being placed in an extremely difficult position’.

At the same time, the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) calls for the use of ‘diplomatic means to solve conflict’ as it suspends Russian and Belarusian national teams and clubs from its events, while also stripping Russia of the hosting rights for the 2023 World Junior Championship.

A Vegas Golden Knights fan holds up a jersey in support of Ukraine

10pm:  Uzbek-born billionaire Alisher Usmanov sees his assets frozen as part of sanctions imposed on Russian oligarchs by the European Union (EU) in response to the invasion. Usmanov is the president of the International Fencing Federation (FIE) and also has sponsorship links to Premier League soccer side Everton. The 68-year-old’s USM Holdings has a five-year deal to sponsor the club’s training ground and also paid UK£30 million in 2020 for an option on naming rights at the Toffees’ new stadium.

11pm: Reiterating its ‘condemnation of Russia’s aggressive invasion of Ukraine’, World Rugby follows Fifa and Uefa by suspending Russia and Belarus from all international and cross-border club rugby activities. 

1st March

8am: After a night of attacks on Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-biggest city, the International Volleyball Federation (FIVB) announces that Russia will be stripped of the FIVB Volleyball Men’s World Championship, due to be held in August and September. The global governing body says it is ‘gravely concerned by the escalating situation and for the safety of the people of Ukraine’ following Russia’s invasion.

Elsewhere, the International Skating Union (ISU) announces that no athletes from Russia or Belarus will be invited or allowed to participate in its events until further notice. It means Olympic champion Anna Shcherbakova and 15-year-old teammate Kamila Valieva, who was the subject of a doping dispute at last month’s Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics, will not be able to take part at the upcoming World Figure Skating Championships in Montpellier, France. 

9am: Bans on Russian and Belarusian athletes continue to trickle through on the back of the IOC’s recommendation. First, the Badminton World Federation (BWF) confirms it will suspend athletes and officials from Russia and Belarus from competing in its events ‘until further notice’, while the Norwegian Ski Association says skiers from the two countries will not be allowed to participate in this weekend’s competitions in Norway. The International Ski Federation (FIS) has already cancelled its remaining events in Russia due to the invasion, but has stopped short of barring Russian athletes from taking part.

9.30am: Fina goes against the IOC’s recommendation by announcing that Russian and Belarusian swimmers will still be able to take part in its competitions as neutral athletes. The global governing body is yet to make a decision on this year’s World Swimming Championships (25m), scheduled to take place from 17th to 22nd December. 

3pm: All Russian and Belarusian athletes are to be excluded from World Athletics events ‘for the foreseeable future’. The suspension comes ahead of this month’s World Athletics Indoor Championships in Serbia and the 2022 World Athletics Championships, which are taking place in Oregon in July.

4pm: Another announcement, this time from the International Mixed Martial Arts Federation (IMMAF), which says it is uniting with international sport ‘in boycotting Russia and Belarus’ in response to their attack on Ukraine. The two countries will therefore be barred from competing in all IMMAF championships for the foreseeable future, starting with next week’s MMA Super Cup.

5pm: The International Shooting Sport Federation (ISSF), which is headed up by Russian billionaire Vladimir Lisin, becomes the latest to ban athletes from Russia and Belarus. 

6pm: Russia and Belarus are banned from participating in competitions organised by the International Tennis Federation (ITF), which announces it is also cancelling its events in those countries. The decision likely means that the Russian teams will be unable to defend their Davis Cup and Billie Jean King Cup titles.

Meanwhile, the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) and Women’s Tennis Association (WTArelease a joint statement saying that players from Russia and Belarus will continue to be allowed to compete in both their events and at the grand slams as neutral athletes. The pair also decide to suspend their combined event in Moscow in October.

6.30pm: Usmanov threatens legal action over the economic sanctions imposed on him by the EU as he announces that he is stepping down as FIE president ‘until justice is restored’. 

7pm: The International Cycling Union (UCI) condemns ‘the aggression of the Russian and Belarusian governments’ and outlines a detailed set of measures in response to the invasion.

The organisation bans both countries’ national teams from competing in its events and withdraws UCI Team status from all outfits operating under Russian or Belarusian nationality. All planned UCI events in Russia and Belarus are withdrawn, while it is also decided that it will not accept sponsorship from Russian or Belarusian brands, neither of which will receive visibility at events on the UCI calendar.

However, Russian and Belarusian athletes are still allowed to compete, albeit in a neutral capacity.

10pm: US sportswear giant Nike decides to halt online sales in Russia as it cannot guarantee the delivery of goods to customers in the country. The manufacturer joins a growing list of companies suspending business operations in Russia, including the likes of Apple, Warner Bros and FedEx

11pm: Russian driver Nikita Mazepin gets the green light to continue competing in Formula One as the International Automobile Federation (FIA) rules that individuals from Russia and Belarus can still take part ‘under the FIA flag’. 

2nd March

7am: Reports emerge overnight suggesting that Abramovich is open to selling Chelsea. Swiss billionaire Hansjorg Wyss tells the Blick newspaper that he and “three other people” have been offered the chance to buy the club, but says he is only interested in doing so as part of a consortium. 

“Abramovich is trying to sell all his villas in England, he also wants to get rid of Chelsea quickly,” Wyss told Blick. “I and three other people received an offer on Tuesday to buy Chelsea from Abramovich. I have to wait four to five days now. Abramovich is currently asking far too much.”

Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich has long denied a close relationship with Putin

8am: Following the IOC’s recommendation, the International Biathlon Union (IBU) bans Russian and Belarusian athletes from its events until further notice. It also expresses sorrow at the death of 19-year-old former biathlete Yevhen Malyshev, who was killed serving in Ukraine’s armed forces.

11am: The International Paralympic Committee (IPC) says it has taken the ‘strongest possible actions’ as it announces that Russian and Belarusian Paralympians will be allowed to compete as neutral athletes at the Winter Paralympics in Beijing. The IPC also confirms that the full delegation of the Ukrainian team has arrived safely in China ahead of the event, which gets underway on 4th March. 

“It is deeply disappointing that such action is required,” IPC president Andrew Parsons says in a statement. “However, the IPC governing board believes it to be necessary in order to hold governments to account for actions that impact directly on the Paralympic Movement, the Paralympic Games and Paralympic athletes. 

“Now that this decision has been made, I expect all participating NPCs to treat the neutral athletes as they would any other athletes at these Games, no matter how difficult this may be. Unlike their respective governments, these Paralympic athletes and officials are not the aggressors, they are here to compete in a sport event like everybody else.”

1pm: There is more bad news for Usmanov as Premier League club Everton suspend their commercial ties with Russian companies USM, MegaFon and Yota. Russian telecommunications brand MegaFon is among the businesses managed by USM Holdings, which sponsors Everton’s training ground and has an option on naming rights for the Toffees’ new stadium.

4pm: Video game producer EA Sports calls for an end to the invasion of Ukraine as it announces that it will be removing the Russian and Belarusian national teams and club sides from its FIFA and NHL titles. 

6pm: Abramovich confirms that he has made the ‘incredibly difficult decision’ to sell Chelsea just hours before the club’s FA Cup tie away to Luton Town. American investor Todd Boehly is now among the names linked with a bid for the Blues, who have been under the stewardship of Abramovich since 2003. 

3rd March

7am: The IPC performs a massive U-turn as it announces that Russian and Belarusian athletes will be banned from the Winter Paralympics less than 24 hours after saying that they can compete at Beijing 2022 as neutrals. The organisation’s original announcement on 2nd March had been met with criticism and the threat of a boycott. 

Explaining the decision, Parsons says: “In the last 12 hours, an overwhelming number of members have been in touch with us and been very open, for which I am grateful. They have told us that, if we do not reconsider our decision, it is now likely to have grave consequences for the Beijing 2022 Paralympic Winter Games.”

The decision was later labelled “a disgrace” by Russian sports minister Oleg Matytsin.

1.30pm: Formula One doubles down by confirming that it has terminated its contract with the promoter of the Russian Grand Prix, which was due to move to St Petersburg from 2023. It comes a day after Motorsport UK announced that no Russian or Belarusian drivers will be allowed to participate in UK motorsport events, despite the FIA ruling that competitors from the two countries can continue to race as neutrals.

2pm: Speaking at the Financial Times Business of Football Summit in London, Premier League chief executive Richard Masters reveals that the top-flight English soccer league is looking at terminating or suspending its Russian television deal. The rights in Russia are currently held by Rambler which broadcasts coverage on the Okko streaming platform, but Match TV – owned by energy giant Gazprom – is then set to start a six-year deal from the 2022/23 season.

6pm: The Russian Football Union (RFU) confirms its intention to appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) against the decisions by Fifa and Uefa to bar Russian teams from international soccer competitions.

7pm: After initially pausing online sales in the country, Nike says it will now temporarily close all its stores in Russia.

8pm: By the close of play, more international federations have taken actions against Russia and Belarus. The International Equestrian Federation (FEI), International Canoe Federation (ICF), World Sailing, the International Modern Pentathlon Union (UIPM) and the International Surfing Association (ISA) are also now among those to have suspended events in the two countries, as well as athletes and officials.

Similar measures have also been implemented by World TriathlonWorld Taekwondo and the International Weightlifting Federation (IWF), while World Archery and the International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF) have confirmed Russian and Belarusian athletes will not take part in their upcoming events.

In addition, the International Basketball Federation (Fiba) suspends Russia and Belarus from participating in basketball and 3×3 basketball events, which is a move mirrored by the International Hockey Federation (FIH)

4th March

8am: Russia’s Paralympic team will return home from Beijing after deciding not to appeal against the IPC’s decision to ban the country’s athletes from competing. However, a statement overnight from the Russian Olympic Committee (ROC) describes the actions taken against it by the IOC as ‘hasty’ and ‘uncertain’, while also claiming that the exclusion of Russia by other sports federations has no legal basis. 

1pm: The BBC reports that China is set to block coverage of Premier League matches over the weekend over the competition’s show of support for Ukraine. English soccer’s top flight released a statement earlier in the week saying it ‘wholeheartedly rejected’ the Russian invasion and planned to show solidarity with Ukraine in various ways during the upcoming fixture round. 

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