Not less than a week after the Russia Olympic Committee won 32 medals — second most overall but somehow ninth in the standings because of questionable Russia shit — Vladimir Putin appears to be preparing to invade the Ukraine. Now, the sporting world seems to be paying attention to the crisis in real-time as UEFA is likely to move the Champions League Final out of St. Petersburg, Russia, according to BBC Sport.
However, there are a slew of upcoming club and international fixtures in both countries. A Youth League last-16 game scheduled for March 2 in Kyiv, Ukraine, has already been postponed. Both countries have crucial World Cup qualifying games, and Russia is supposed to host Poland on March 24.
In an ideal world, the ROC should’ve never been allowed to participate in the Olympics solely based on their state-sponsored doping scandal. Unfortunately, the corrupt-as-Mayor Quimby federations of international sports can be as hapless as governments.
Former UK sports minister Tracey Crouch said UEFA should move the game “immediately,” and it’s a wonder why it hasn’t announced the change yet even though it’s scrambling for a new final host for the third consecutive year. (The previous two had to be relocated due to COVID.)
FIFA should be the next to act, and pile on the sanctions with a ban of the Russia national team from the World Cup. FIFA told CNN it is “monitoring the situation.” (I’m amazed they were able to answer the phone for comment while sitting on their hands.)
The last thing the World Cup needs is the Kremlin showing up in an attempt to legitimize invading a sovereign country. The 2018 World Cup was held in Russia, and I don’t know the right words to describe them potentially being unable to reuse the stadium they erected for the World Cup for the Champions League Final, but it’s some combination of karma, waste, spiteful glee, and depression.
There is one team from Russia left in European competition. Zenit St. Petersburg are set to play the second leg of their Europa League playoff with Real Betis in Spain on Thursday. They lost the first game, 3-2, at home, and would need to win the aggregate to force UEFA to make a decision on where to play the St. Petersburg portion in the next round. If you’re asking, why not ban Zenit, too? That’s a little dicey considering not all of their players are Russian nationals, and they shouldn’t have their livelihood affected because Putin is a monster.
Meanwhile, Manchester City is atop the EPL standings and coach Pep Guardiola is looking for his first Champions League trophy at the club, a prize that has proved elusive since joining the team in 2016. One of his players, 25-year-old defender Oleksandr Zinchenko, is from Ukraine and took to Instagram to decry the rapidly escalating situation in his home country.
“The whole civilized world is worried about the situation in my country. I can’t stay away and try to convey my opinion. The country where I was born and raised. A country whose colors I defend in the international sports arena. A country that we try to glorify and develop. A country whose borders must remain inviolable.
“My country belongs to Ukrainians and no-one will ever be able to appropriate it. We will not give up! Glory to Ukraine.”
(When I read that quote I can’t help but think of the extremely proud Ukrainian who destroys Kramer and Newman’s game of Risk on the subway after overhearing Kramer say the Ukraine is weak on an episode of Seinfeld that my editors have probably seen but most of you readers probably have not.)
We’ll see how long this conflict goes on — and how long it takes for international sports organizations to catch the fuck up — but it’s a shitty situation and hopefully one that will be resolved soon and with as little violence as possible.