How the world of soccer is standing in solidarity with Ukraine in response to Russia’s invasion

Friday saw UEFA strip Saint Petersburg’s Gazprom Arena of the UEFA Champions League final following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The news followed 24 hours of powerful messages of solidarity towards Ukraine from the world of soccer.

Russia and Dynamo Moscow striker Fedor Smolov was the first national team player to speak out against his own country. His “no to war” Instagram post was also liked by his fiancée, Maria Yumasheva, who is the granddaughter of Russia’s first president, Boris Yeltsin.

Fedor Smolov was the first Russian national team player to take a stand.

Ahead of Thursday’s Europa League and Europa Conference League games, Schalke announced the removal of Russia’s state-owned energy company Gazprom from their shirts with immediate effect, bringing to an end a 15-year partnership.

Soon after, Manchester United terminated their sponsorship with Russia’s national airline Aeroflot, coming out of a 10-year contract a year early.

Thursday’s games saw some powerful messages and showed how soccer can use its platform to promote peace.

Napoli and Barcelona posed together in front of a “Stop War” banner before kick-off with the Spanish going on to book their place in the last 16 of the Europa League.

In a show of solidarity, Slavia Prague made Ukraine international defender Taras Kacharaba captain for the night. The 27-year-old only got his first cap in September and was clearly moved by the gesture.

Slavia also squad walked out in “We stand with Ukraine” T-shirts ahead of their win over Fenerbahçe.

One of the most emotional moments of the night came when Ukraine international Ruslan Malinovskyi scored two brilliant goals in Atalanta’s win at Olympiakos and then revealed a T-shirt with the message “No war in Ukraine” during muted celebrations.

Malinovskyi scored both goals at Atalanta beat Olympiacos 2-1 on the night.
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Fans also made their voice heard along with the players. Real Betis supporters staged a protest ahead of their win over Zenit, the only Russian side in action on Thursday.

Supporters of Norwegian club Bodo/Glimt held up hundreds of Ukraine flags during their victory over Celtic in the Europa Conference League.

And fans of Croatian side Dinamo Zagreb unfurled a banner which read, “Support to the people of Ukraine!” during their game against Sevilla. Dinamo won 1-0 on the night but lost the tie on aggregate.

Ukraine flags were seen in stadiums around Europe on Thursday.
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Friday then saw the UCL final moved from Saint Petersburg to Paris’ Stade de France following UEFA’s emergency meeting. It was also determined Russian teams will only be allowed to compete at neutral venues in UEFA-endorsed competitions.

And CBS Sports understands Russia’s international teams may be forced to compete under a neutral flag as well, similar to at the Olympic Games.

The Polish, Czech and Swedish Football Associations have also voiced opposition to playing World Cup qualifiers against Russia in March. And Russia could be barred entry to England for the Women’s Euros this summer.

Protests against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and further shows of solidarity, are expected this weekend. The Premier League have granted English clubs permission to take a stand. Ukrainian defenders Vitaliy Mykolenko (Everton) and Oleksandr Zinchenko (Manchester City) will come up against each other at Goodison Park on Saturday.

And Serie A have confirmed all games this weekend will start five minutes late in order to highlight what they call the “serious humanitarian situation in Ukraine.” AC Milan’s 1-1 draw with Udinese at the San Siro on Friday started with a poignant five-minute silence.

Soccer is not only standing with Ukraine but showcasing its power to promote peace, with clubs, players and fans all united against war.

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