For the third season in a row, the Champions League final will change venues at short notice. The ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine has forced UEFA to move the final away from St. Petersburg, with news filtering through on Friday of the replacement venue.
On Friday morning, UEFA voted to move the Champions League final away from St. Petersburg, with the Stade de France in Paris to take its place.
St. Petersburg removed as Champions League final host
The terrifying scenes from Ukraine continue to dominate news coverage. Thursday morning brought the beginning of a full-scale Russian invasion, with large explosions heard in major cities such as Kyiv, Kharviv, and Donetsk. Russia have framed the attack as an act of self-defence against Ukraine, a claim widely dismissed by western politicians.
In the world of sport, the invasion of Ukraine has necessitated some immediate conversation about major events scheduled to take place in Russia.
The Russian football team had been scheduled to host Poland in a World Cup qualifying play-off next month, and would have hosted Sweden or Czech Republic in the final play-off if they were to defeat Poland. Poland and Sweden's football federations both raised concerns about the feasibility of going ahead with these matches.
The biggest football game scheduled to take place in Russia, however, was the Champions League final. The showpiece event of European club football was planned to visit St. Petersburg on May 28, in the Gazprom Arena - named for a major sponsor of the Champions League.
UEFA made the decision to remove St. Petersburg as hosts of the final at an extraordinary meeting on Friday morning. In a press release, they announced that the legendary Stade de France will host the final on May 28. They also expressed their concern for the human suffering occurring in Ukraine in a press release:
UEFA wishes to express its thanks and appreciation to French Republic President Emmanuel Macron for his personal support and commitment to have European club football’s most prestigious game moved to France at a time of unparalleled crisis.
Together with the French government, UEFA will fully support multi-stakeholder efforts to ensure the provision of rescue for football players and their families in Ukraine who face dire human suffering, destruction and displacement.
The Stade de France has hosted the Champions League final twice previously, most recently in 2006, when Barcelona defeated Arsenal 2-1.
UEFA also announced that any games scheduled to be played in Russia or Ukraine would be moved to neutral venues - meaning that Russia's home advantage for the World Cup play-offs has been lost.
Ireland's Nations League trip to Ukraine on June 14 is now also likely to be moved, though the game in the Aviva Stadium on June 4 is unlikely to be affected.
Other major sports have yet to announce similar moves, with the Russian Formula 1 Grand Prix's fate up in the air. Defending champion Max Verstappen said he did not think the sport should race in a war-torn country, while Sebastian Vettel said that - regardless of the race's potential cancellation - he would not take part in any round in Russia.
The Champions League final is the first major sporting sanction against Russia. As the situation continues to worsen, it is hard to see it being the last.