The 2022 Champions League final, currently set to be played in Saint Petersburg, Russia in late May, could be moved by UEFA, according to numerous reports from across the globe.
With Russia currently embroiled in a military escalation on the border with Ukraine, world leaders are looking to take action as Eastern Europe grapples with the consequences of a potential conflict.
UEFA also could take action, not only as a statement of intent against Russian aggression, but also to secure a more stable environment for its marquee event. The European football governing body has not yet made a formal announcement, but there is much reporting and speculation about a possible shift of location for the event.
However, it’s possible that a de-escalation of the situation could see the match remain in Saint Petersburg, and it’s possible that UEFA will wait until its hand is forced before moving the venue. Here is the latest on the 2022 Champions League final and its venue.
Could UEFA move Champions League final 2022?
Currently, UEFA is holding firm, saying in a statement on Feb. 22, “UEFA is constantly and closely monitoring the situation. At present, there are no plans to change the venue.”
However, according to multiple reports, including from ESPN and The Independent, UEFA is holding internal discussions regarding a contingency plan for the 2022 Champions League final, pending the escalating situation in Eastern Europe.
The latest action by Russian president Vladimir Putin to move troops across the border into the Ukraine has placed additional pressure onto UEFA, and according to The Independent’s report, this action makes it “virtually certain” that the final will be moved. The Independent continues to state that “UEFA now sees a contingency plan as essential.”
While the outward appearance could be that UEFA is taking action against Russia for its aggression towards another member association, the move is also likely to be made due to logistical issues surrounding a final located in a nation involved in ongoing military activity. A final in Russia could present additional difficulties for fans and media to travel to and from the event.
Numerous major airlines in Europe, including Dutch company KLM, have announced a restriction of travel and a reduction of flights to and from Russia and Ukraine as a result of the latest developments. In addition, there are numerous reports that Russia could restrict its airspace as an economic retaliation to any major sanctions placed by foreign governments.
Is Russia invading Ukraine? Latest reports
On Feb. 22, Russian president Vladimir Putin formally announced that his nation would recognize the “independence” and “sovereignty” of two Ukrainian regions most heavily affected by separatist fighting: Donetsk and Luhansk. The two regions have been stricken with pro-Russian civil uprisings since 2014.
A day later, in the waning hours of Feb. 23, Putin officially declared war on Ukraine, announcing a “special military operation” in the Donbas region of Ukraine which encompasses Donetsk and Luhansk. Minutes after his announcement, explosions were seen not just in the Donbas region but across the country, including in the Ukrainian capital city of Kyiv and the port city of Kharkiv.
U.K. prime minister Boris Johnson has come out publicly against Russia’s actions in the days before the invasion, emphatically stating his opposition to the idea of the aggressive nation hosting a Champions League final.
“It is clear from the response of the world to what he has done already in Donbas that he is going to end up with a Russia that is poorer as a result of the sanctions that the world will implement,” Johnson said. “A Russia that is more isolated, a Russia that has pariah status — no chance of holding football tournaments in a Russia that invades sovereign countries.”
Where is UEFA Champions League final 2022?
At the present time, the 2022 Champions League final is scheduled to be played in Saint Petersburg, Russia at Krestovsky Stadium.
However, UEFA announced it is “closely monitoring the situation” between Russia and Ukraine. There is significant recent precedent for UEFA to move finals, even at the last minute.
Russia was initially scheduled to host the 2021 Champions League final, but due to COVID-19 travel restrictions, the final was moved to Porto, Portugal and all subsequent hosts, including Russia, were pushed back by a year, leaving Saint Petersburg to host the 2022 final. UEFA’s announcement of that venue change came on May 13, just 16 days before the match was to be played.
The 2020 Champions League final was also moved due to the COVID-19 pandemic, originally scheduled to take place in Istanbul, Turkey but it was announced in March that the final was postponed due to the heightening pandemic situation. In mid-June, the venue was moved to Lisbon, Portugal and scheduled for August 23.
According to reports in England, Wembley Stadium in London is being considered as an alternative should the event be moved. However, outlets outside the English tabloids have yet to corroborate those reports or float other possible venues for UEFA’s contingency plans.
Other UEFA European finals affected by political unrest
UEFA was recently forced to manage a similar incident just three years ago, and that experience and the widespread criticism leveled at the European governing body could inform future decisions.
The 2019 Europa League final, contested between Chelsea and Arsenal, was held at the Olympic Stadium in Baku, Azerbaijan.
UEFA received extensive criticism for sticking with the final in Azerbaijan despite an ongoing conflict with neighboring Armenia. This conflict saw Arsenal midfielder Henrikh Mkhitaryan, who is an Armenian international, unable to play in the match, as he was held back for concerns over his safety while in Azerbaijan.
In addition to Mkhitaryan’s inability to play, a number of fans from the United Kingdom of Armenian descent were initially denied visas for the trip, until UEFA stepped in and helped smooth over the situation.
UEFA could face a similar situation depending on the teams that advance to the final. Most notably, Manchester City, the current betting favorite for the competition, features Ukrainian international Oleksandr Zinchenko as a regular contributor, and should the club potentially reach a final held in Russia, the venue might put into question his participation in the event.