Hammer and anvil What UEFA chooses between the glitter of the League

Reading time: 6 minutes

The government of London, through the voice of Prime Minister Boris Johnson, but also other British officials, has officially asked the European football tutelage forum – UEFA – to move the Champions League Final, scheduled for May 28, at the Krestovski Stadium in St. Petersburg. UEFA said it was considering the suggestion without giving a concrete answer. The decision, however, is terribly difficult to make.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Tuesday that Russia had lost its right and legitimacy to host a European Champions League final, following events to recognize the sovereignty of the two separatist republics in eastern Ukraine and prepare the ground for the invasion of the neighboring country.

“I think it is inconceivable that Russia could host major international football events after the invasion of another sovereign country. It is absolutely vital at this critical time for President Putin to understand that what he is doing will turn into a disaster for Russia. It will become an increasingly isolated Russia, a Russia with a status of pariah, “without any chance of organizing football events”, Johnson said in the plenary of the British Parliament on Tuesday.

Nadine Dorries, the British Minister for Sport, said that the United Kingdom will raise the issue of the relevant authorities in European football:

“I have serious concerns about sporting events that would take place in Russia, such as the Champions League Final. We will not allow President Putin to benefit from events with a global impact, in order to legitimize his illegal invasion of Ukraine, “Dorries wrote in a post on Twitter, quoted by Reuters.

For its part, UEFA was brief in responding to these requests, stating only that it is closely monitoring the situation:

“As for the 2022 UEFA Champions League final in St Petersburg, UEFA is constantly and closely monitoring the situation and any decision will be taken in a timely manner, if necessary,” UEFA said in a statement requested by Reuters.

The threads of football are tangled

In the current context – which is all indications that it could even get worse in the coming months – moving to the Champions League Final may be inevitable for UEFA. But will it be enough for the European football forum and its “flagship” competition to really shake off Russia and its image as an aggressor against another sovereign state?

Well-known Polish sports journalist Dariusz Dubek reviews UEFA’s close ties with the political establishment in Moscow and St. Petersburg and tries to find possible answers.

“The discussion about a possible further cooperation with Gazprom will be the litmus test for UEFA. After all, the Russian gas giant is not investing these huge sums of money just today, yesterday. And it does so not only for the benefit of European football, but also for world football. On the other hand, Gazprom is inextricably linked to Vladimir Putin, and this is not the case today, since yesterday. Will the struggle with the rattle of money win in this story? ”He asks in an article published on the Onet.pl portal.

Football & UEFA + Gazprom = love

At the age of 30, the bride and groom celebrate the so-called “pearl wedding.” UEFA and Gazprom are entitled to do so. It has already been 30 years since the two entities began a fruitful and increasingly lucrative collaboration.

At the time, Vladimir Putin was deputy mayor of St. Petersburg and chairman of the city’s Foreign Affairs Committee. In these capacities, he was the leader of Dmitry Medvedev – the one he left in the Kremlin until he resolved his constitutional problems that prevented him from presiding over Russia forever – and Alexei Miller, who over the years became head of Gazprom. find out today.

In 2001, when Miller was appointed chairman of the Russian natural gas giant, he came up with a grand plan, after which his soul club, Zenit St. Petersburg, would dominate the world of domestic football and, then internationally. It’s been years since his beloved club looked enviously at rivals in Moscow, unable to get close to their performances.

In the middle of the last decade, everything has changed. Billions of rubles were pumped into the team from the city on the Neva, at the initiative of Miller’s Gazprom and, of course, with the consent of Putin, who was also born in St. Petersburg.

There are many other details that testify to the symbiosis between Russia’s second largest city and the gas giant.

Also near the city, Gazprom has built its impressive new headquarters, a skyscraper dubbed the Lakhta Center, which has swallowed up an investment of nearly $ 2 billion. At 462 meters high, it is the tallest building in Russia in Europe, as well as the 16th in the world, led by the Burj Khalifa, with a height almost double (828 meters).

For comparison, the Sky Tower in Floreasca is 137 meters high and is the tallest building in Romania, only 2 meters higher than the Cathedral of the Salvation of the Nation.

The story of Lakhta Center has been complicated from the beginning. Gazprom wanted to build its headquarters right in the center of the city, but the idea was met with protests, and the company’s bosses surprisingly gave in and the headquarters were built in Lakhta, a satellite town of the great metropolis. The city authorities wanted Gazprom to stay within its borders (and pay local taxes to the municipality, of course) at all costs, so they decided to build the Zenit stadium.

On the other hand, Gazprom was not stingy at all when it came to building the new great Russian football power, the local pride of Zenit St. Petersburg.

The effects of pumping money into the team were spectacular at first. Already in 2007, the club managed to win the first domestic championship, and then hit and won the UEFA Cup (now Europa League). The icing on the cake: in the European Super Cup, Gazprom’s team defeated the winners of the Champions League, the “red devils” of Manchester United, led by the legendary Alex Ferguson.

In the international arena, the pipeline with great success closed there, but in the internal competition Zenit is fighting every year with the giants of Moscow.

Gradually, it was no longer enough for Gazprom. After all, the Russian giant cares too little about the sport itself, as is usually the case with the big companies that link their name to the sports arena. The main idea is to cultivate a “washed out” image that is happily associated with the image of the Kremlin’s aggressive foreign policy.

Gazprom’s marketers have been ordered to press the accelerator pedal even harder in terms of “washing the image through sports”, the so-called “sportswashing” operation, as the English say. Of course, using sport to improve one’s reputation is far from a new concept or one invented by the Russians. In practice, we know him even better through the involvement of Sheikhs in the Gulf area in English football and at Paris Saint-Germain.

But Gazprom has taken a step further.

First, the Russian giant took a first step in Germany and signed a sponsorship agreement with Schalke 04 Gelsenkirchen. Then he put money into the Red Star Belgrade, and then became a partner of Chelsea.

It still wasn’t enough.

But in 2012, Gazprom went all-in and became the official sponsor of the Champions League. It was at this point that Miller was able to report to Putin that he had accomplished his mission.

For a decade, the Russian company’s logo has been displayed at every match in the elite European and world football competition. And the bill was not a small one at all: information shows that Gazprom transfers 40 million euros annually to the UEFA account for this business.

As if that wasn’t enough, Gazprom also became the main sponsor of the 2018 World Cup. The Russians were to spend between 72 and 132 million dollars over three years. Only “angels” were present at the signing ceremony: Vladimir Putin, Alexei Miller, FIFA boss Sepp Blatter, who has meanwhile been jailed, and Vitaly Mutko, head of Russia’s World Cup organizing committee, one of the prominent figures. of the practice of mass doping in Russian sport, in his capacity as Minister of Sport.

The signing ceremony of the partnership between FIFA and Gazprom for the sponsorship of the World Cup in Russia. From left to right: Sepp Blatter, Vladimir Putin, Alexei Miller, Vitaly Mutko. Photo source: Gazprom.

The contract with FIFA has expired after the last World Cup, but the Russians are still well established at UEFA. And not just with the upcoming Champions League Final. According to the agreement, Gazprom will pump money into UEFA for another two years. The logo of the world’s largest natural gas producer also appears during the European Super Cup match, at the national team matches, at the Youth Champions League and also at the European counterpart futsal competition.

We will soon find out what really matters to UEFA. Withdrawal of this year’s Champions League Final in St. Petersburg could mean an early termination of the contract with Gazprom.

But do the authorities of European football really want to cut off the head of this hydra ?, Dariusz Dubek wonders.