Russia is making “serious preparations” to invade Ukraine and there could be significant consequences to the footballing calendar.
While the importance of football pales into insignificance compared to the wider situation on the Ukrainian border, the ramifications of an invasion are potentially huge for the sport.
First and foremost, UEFA might have an important decision to make, very soon, on the suitability of the Champions League final venue, which is set to take place in Saint Petersburg’s Krestovsky Stadium on Saturday 28 May. The competition is set to resume this week with Round of 16 matches, having completed the group stage in December.
If two nations under UEFA’s umbrella are deemed to be at war against one another, it would seem likely that the game could be switched to an alternative venue.
Just last year, the all-English final of Europe’s most prestigious club competition was switched at the eleventh hour, after proposed host country Turkey was placed on the UK’s COVID-19 “red list”, which seriously impeded fans of Manchester City and Chelsea to attend the game.
Russia has hosted the Champions League final once before, when Manchester United defeated Chelsea on penalties in the 2008 renewal in Moscow. Depending on the outcome of the current political situation, the likelihood of it hosting a second must be considered in some doubt.
World Cup and Nations League impact
Both Russia and Ukraine are still in contention to qualify for the FIFA World Cup, which is set to take place in Qatar from November.
The two countries are due to play in the second round of the UEFA qualification procedure, which involves a series of playoffs.
Ukraine will travel to Glasgow on 24 March to face Scotland in Path A’s semi final, and should they progress, will face the winners of Wales and Austria for a place in the finals.
On the same day, Russia have been drawn against Poland in Path B, and should they come through that tie, will face either Sweden or Czech Republic to proceed to the tournament proper.
To further complicate matters, 2018 World Cup hosts Russia are scheduled to have home advantage in both of those games, so it remains to be seen if UEFA or FIFA decide to move their proposed fixtures to a different venue. With just 39 days until the first of those games, such a decision will need to be made quickly depending on how the situation unfolds.
There is also the possibility that one or both of Russia and Ukraine reach the final tournament in Qatar, and this raises even further questions.
The two countries were blocked from being drawn against each other by UEFA ahead of the playoff draw, so a major decision will await FIFA should they both qualify for the world’s most-watched sporting event.
Russia and Ukraine are also set to compete in UEFA’s Nations League this summer.
Both nations are in League B, with Ukraine in Group 1 alongside Scotland, Republic of Ireland and Armenia, while Russia are in Group 2 with Israel, Iceland and Albania. Games will begin in June.
Yet more decisions will await Europe’s football governing body should an invasion take place.
Finally, there could be consequences at domestic level.
Both Spartak Moscow and Zenit Saint Petersburg remain in the UEFA Europa League, with the latter due to play this week (Thursday) in the Knockout Round Playoffs against Real Betis. Spartak Moscow are seeded and have automatically qualified for the Round of 16, which will begin on 10 March.
Again, depending on how the political situation unfolds, there might be an impact to Russia’s clubs in the sister competition to the Champions League.
This won’t affect Ukrainian clubs, who have all been eliminated from UEFA’s three active domestic tournaments.