World of football unites in support of Ukraine

Sports Desk, Feb 28 (EFE).- Russia’s invasion of its neighbor Ukraine has been widely condemned by the international community, including the world of football.

At stadiums across Europe over the weekend, fans and players displayed messages of support and solidarity for Ukraine.

At the Premier League match between Everton and Manchester City on Saturday evening, Ukrainian internationals Oleksandr Zinchenko and Vitaliy Mykolenko shared an emotional embrace on the pitch after both sets of players had taken to the field draped in Ukrainian flags.

Sunday evening’s Carabao Cup final between Liverpool and Chelsea also displayed messages and gestures of support for Ukraine.

Chelsea’s owner, Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich, said on the eve of the final that he was handing over “stewardship and care” of the club to trustees of Chelsea’s charitable foundation.

British media reported that Abramovich, who is one of the wealthiest men in Russia and has close ties with president Vladimir Putin, relinquished day-to-day control of the club amid fears that his assets in the UK might be frozen as part of Western sanctions targeting Russian oligarchs in the wake of the invasion.

On Monday, his spokesperson told the Press Association that Abramovich had been contacted by Ukrainian officials for his help in “achieving a peaceful resolution.”

Across Europe, teams and fans showed their support for the Kyiv government and their condemnation of Putin.

In Germany, Schalke 04 on Monday announced that it had ended its sponsorship agreement with Russian state energy firm Gazprom. The move came after the club announced last week that it was removing the company’s logo from its jersey.

All German football league first and second division matches played at the weekend displayed messages promoting peace and solidarity with Ukraine.

Football’s world governing body, Fifa, on Sunday banned Russian teams from competing under the Russian flag in response to Moscow’s invasion.

The move means Russia will have to play matches on neutral territory under the name Football Union of Russia and the national anthem will not be played.

But several national federations criticized Fifa for not going further and banning Russia from its competitions outright, while some have said they will refuse to play upcoming matches.

Russia is scheduled to take on Poland in a playoff for a spot at this year’s World Cup in Qatar. The winner of that match would play either Czech Republic or Sweden in a second playoff round.

But all three of those teams said over the weekend that they would refuse to play those matches unless the conflict in Ukraine is peacefully and swiftly resolved.

Polish football association president Cezary Kulesza said Fifa’s decision was “totally unacceptable”, while the Swedish and Czech soccier associations said that they would refuse to play Russia.

“We are not interested in participating in this game of appearances. Our stance remains intact: Polish National Team will not play with Russia, no matter what the name of the team is,” he said.

The fallout from the invasion could also extend to women’s soccer, with the upcoming European Championship in July in England pitting Sweden, the Netherlands and Switzerland in the same group as Russia.

Fifa said it would discuss the situation with other international sport organizations over potentially expelling Russia.

In a statement on Sunday, Fifa said it “would like to reiterate its condemnation of the use of force by Russia in its invasion of Ukraine.”

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