Premier League clubs must boycott Champions League final if Russia agenda causes bloodshed – Mike Walters


UEFA have to change the venue – the Gazprom Arena in Saint Petersburg – despite growing tensions between Russian and Ukraine, with Liverpool, Manchester City, Chelsea and Manchester United all still in the competition

Video Loading

Video Unavailable

Watch Live: Boris Johnson outlines UK sanctions against Russia

They were two loyal Newcastle United fans on their way to a pre-season tour in New Zealand when their plane was shot out of the sky for no reason.

John Alder and Liam Sweeney were among 298 people who were executed by a missile launched at their Malaysian Airlines passenger flight MH17 from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, near the border between Russia and Ukraine in July 2014.

Investigators believe the plane was downed by Russian separatists using a Buk missile system, and after painstaking research Dutch prosecutors named four suspects who were tried in their absence – with no hope of being extradited – in Amsterdam.

The Netherlands government has always held Russia responsible for the outrage. Meanwhile, 298 families await justice.

Amid the euphoria of England’s run to the 2018 World Cup semi-finals, somehow the morality of sending a team to compete in Russia at all became lost when a principled stand in memory of Alder and Sweeney would have been appropriate.

Should the Champions League final be moved? Have your say in the comments below

Now, as Vladimir Putin’s hubris casts ominous shadows across Europe with his excursion into Ukrainian sovereign territory, football must make a stand.

In the context of war, sporting gestures may seem trite or futile – but bruising an aggressive regime’s ego is better than no sanctions at all.

So here’s the deal: If Putin’s expansionist agenda leads to bloodshed in Ukraine or beyond, the Champions League final simply cannot be allowed to happen in St Petersburg.

If Liverpool, Manchester City or Chelsea reach the showpiece on May 28, none of them should set foot in the Gazprom Arena.

Not a single player, coach, supporter or water carrier.

If it’s another all-English final, we’ll stage it at Wembley, thanks.

And if Russian energy giant Gazprom’s sponsorship deal with UEFA puts European football’s governing body in an invidious position, they can choose between money and ethics. It should be a simple choice.

Boycotting a sporting event or venue is sometimes the playground of gesture politics, but significantly the Cold War began to thaw after the United States refused to send a team to the Moscow Olympics in 1980.

The Soviet Union retaliated by declining to attend the Los Angeles Games four years later, but the gesture was transparently tit-for-tat and the meaningful crack in the ice had been delivered by US President Jimmy Carter.

So far, UEFA are in no rush to take their biggest club fixture away from Putin. In a statement, they acknowledged: “UEFA is constantly and closely monitoring the situation. At present, there are no plans to change the venue.”

But if Russia’s agenda to reclaim former Soviet territories by annexing them, piece by piece, leads to war, staging the Champions League final in an aggressor’s back yard is simply unthinkable.

Newcastle’s response to a human tragedy in 2014 was exemplary, but at diplomatic levels football failed John Alder and Liam Sweeney’s families with its negligible reaction to mass murder at 36,000ft.

If the crisis in Ukraine escalates, the game will have another chance to put morality first.

If the 2021 final can be switched, at short notice, from Istanbul to Porto because of insurmountable travel restrictions on supporters during a pandemic, there should be no barriers to removing the prestige from a nation spoiling for war.