— Published 8 March 2022

Football leads the way against Russia

Who would have thought it? Since the start of the Russian invasion of Ukraine on 24 February, a sport, its authorities and players have been leading the way in sanctions and solidarity. A sport that was previously known for evolving on its own planet, often isolated from the rest of the movement.

Faced with the war in Ukraine, football is setting an example. Its authorities are the quickest to act. Above all, its players are showing the most concrete initiatives.

On Monday 28 February, the IOC published a “recommendation” calling on international federations and organisations to ban Russian athletes from their competitions. This is a strong gesture, breaking with the sacrosanct principle of political neutrality that the Olympic body has always upheld. The vast majority of international federations followed suit, banning Russian and Belarusian athletes or accepting them only under a neutral banner.

But FIFA and football go further. The body chaired by Gianni Infantino has excluded Russia from the race to qualify for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. Since then, the volley of sanctions has intensified. In the last 24 hours, football has stepped up the pace.

On Monday 7 March, FIFA announced in a press release the opening of a kind of exceptional mercato for foreign players and coaches employed in the Russian and Ukrainian leagues. They will be able to have their contracts “suspended” until the end of the season, and will thus be free to move elsewhere in the coming weeks.

In effect, foreign players and foreigners currently in Russia will have the right to unilaterally suspend their employment contracts until 30 June 2022. They will be able to sign up for another league by 7 April at the latest. The aim is to facilitate the departure of all those who have not reached a formal agreement with their clubs. And, by a domino effect, deprive the Russian championship of a large number of its players and coaches.

The same measure will apply to foreign players and coaches employed in Ukraine. This time, FIFA’s ambition is obviously not to isolate the country, but to allow them to work and receive a salary while protecting Ukrainian clubs.

Another initiative is the English Premier League. The world’s most watched professional league wants to cut its ties with Russia. It has taken the decision to start a procedure to terminate its contract for broadcasting matches in Russia.

According to Sky Sports and the Daily Mail, the Premier League has instructed its lawyers to launch the move. The official announcement could come before the end of the week.

The television rights to the English league are currently held by a private company, Rambler, a subsidiary of Sberbank. The matches are broadcast on a streaming platform, Okko. Estimated value: 6 million pounds, or about 7.2 million euros. Anecdotal for a championship whose revenues from foreign broadcasting amount to 1.3 billion pounds per year (1.5 billion euros) for the period 2019/2022. But the move sends a strong message.

This is not the Premier League’s first initiative against the war in Ukraine since the conflict began. On the last day of the league, the captains of all 20 teams wore armbands bearing the colours of the Ukrainian flag. A minute’s applause was held in all stadiums before kick-off.

More unexpected was the decision of Poland’s Robert Lewandowski. The Bayern Munich striker announced through his agent, Tomasz Zawislak, that he had broken his partnership with Huawei. What does this have to do with the conflict in Ukraine? The Chinese telecoms giant is accused by several media of collaborating with Russia in its military offensive. The Daily Mail reports that Huawei has helped Russia to secure its Internet against possible attacks by pro-Ukrainian hackers.

All promotional services have been suspended on our part,” explained Robert Lewandowski’s agent in a statement. The Chinese group confirmed the information. But its Polish branch unsurprisingly denied the allegations made by the British daily.