UEFA are exploring contingency plans to move this season’s Champions League final from Saint Petersburg amid concerns over the prospect of military conflict between Russia and Ukraine, sources have told ESPN.
The Krestovsky Stadium, which was built as a centrepiece of Russia’s hosting of the 2018 World Cup, is due to stage the 2022 Champions League final on May 28, becoming only the second Russian city to host the biggest game in club football following Moscow’s staging of the 2008 final between Manchester United and Chelsea.
Saint Petersburg had initially been scheduled to host the 2021 final, but the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic led to UEFA staging the 2020 and 2021 finals in Portugal, Lisbon and Porto respectively, with original hosts Istanbul and Saint Petersburg being reallocated their hosting of the final in 2023 and 2022.
The prospect of Saint Petersburg, the base of major Champions League sponsor Gazprom, hosting this season’s final is now in doubt, however, due to escalating political tensions between Russia and western governments.
The UK government and European Union have served notice in the last 24 hours of a readiness to impose stringent sanctions on Russia following Russian president Vladimir Putin’s declaration on Monday that his country now recognizes the independence of Ukrainian regions Donetsk and Luhansk.
While sources have told ESPN that UEFA has made no decision on Saint Petersburg’s staging of this season’s final, the political situation is being closely monitored and potential alternative options are being assessed.
With four English clubs — Manchester City, Manchester United, Liverpool and holders Chelsea — still in the competition, the prospect of a third all-Premier League final in four years has raised the possibility of Wembley stepping in as a host venue, although the home of English football is already penciled in to stage the 2024 final.
Sources have said that, having moved the last two finals at short notice due to COVID-19, UEFA are prepared to make a similar decision this season if the situation demands a switch of venue.
However, with supporters likely to travel in numbers to this season’s final due to the gradual lifting of COVID-19 restrictions throughout Europe, there is an acceptance within UEFA that clarity will be necessary to avoid the problems that would be caused by a late change of come.