Uefa under pressure over Gazprom sponsorship as Ukraine crisis escalates


Uefa, European football’s governing body, is under mounting pressure over its ties to Russian state energy company Gazprom after Vladimir Putin’s decision to order troops into Ukraine.

The crisis has forced Uefa to consider moving this season’s Champions League final from St Petersburg, while raising deeper questions about Gazprom’s longstanding sponsorship of European football.

UK prime minister Boris Johnson on Tuesday told the House of Commons there was “no chance of holding football tournaments in a Russia that invades sovereign countries”.

Chris Bryant, Labor MP who sits on the Commons foreign affairs select committee, told the FT that Uefa should cut ties with Gazprom.

Uefa is discussing its options for moving the final, set to take place at the Gazprom Arena in May, according to a person with knowledge of the matter. The stadium hosted matches for the 2018 Fifa World Cup and Uefa’s Euro 2020 tournament.

“Uefa is constantly and closely monitoring the situation and any decision would be made in due course if necessary,” the governing body said. “Uefa has no further comments to make at present.”

When asked whether it was committed to its wider partnership with Gazprom, Uefa said only that it would “continue to closely monitor the situation”.

Gazprom renewed its Champions League sponsorship in May last year, when it also agreed to back the next two European championships. At the time, Uefa described Gazprom as one of its “most trusted partners” and “a leader in its field”.

Alexander Dyukov, chief executive of Gazprom Neft, is a member of Uefa’s executive committee.

SportBusiness Sponsorship, the data and research group, has estimated that Gazprom’s 2018-21 deal was worth roughly € 40mn a season to Uefa. The football governing body and Gazprom have been partners since 2012.

Sports marketing expert Tim Crow said that terminating such a contract was generally the result of a company not being able to pay its bills or doing “something that would bring what it’s sponsoring into disrepute”.

“You’d have to show cause to tear up this sponsorship contract,” Crow said. “That would be a big call.”

In Germany, FC Schalke 04 is coming under pressure to end Gazprom’s sponsorship of the club, with prominent fan and marketing expert Raphael Brinkert saying that the deal “was, and is, and remains a mistake”.

The club said it was watching the “latest developments in eastern Europe with great concern” but added that Gazprom Germania had been a “reliable partner” for 15 years and officials were “in constant dialogue with our main sponsor”.

The club said it “stands for peace and peaceful coexistence” with its members “committed to non-violence”. The club said it had “expressed this attitude” in its conversations with the Gazprom unit.

Simon Chadwick, professor of Eurasian sport at Emlyon Business School in Paris, said European football had been “sleepwalking into this situation for the best part of 15 years”.

He said the Uefa-Gazprom tie-up was a sponsorship deal like no other, adding: “Sponsors come with baggage and clearly in the case of Gazprom, we can now see what baggage is.”

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