Europe’s top football-governing body UEFA ended a multi-million euro contract with Russian state-owned Gazprom on Monday (28 February) due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, in a move that is not only good for solidarity but has green benefits as well.
The contract, worth some €40 million a season, for almost a decade, was discarded by the Union of European Football Associations as the West piles more sanctions against Russia and Kremlin-linked associates.
“UEFA has today decided to end its partnership with Gazprom across all competitions,” the association said in a statement on the evening of Monday 28 February.
“The decision is effective immediately and covers all existing agreements including the UEFA Champions League, UEFA national team competitions and UEFA EURO 2024.”
While the move drew widespread attention, UEFA were somewhat slow off the mark to distance themselves from Russia. German club Schalke 04 officially split with the Russian state-owned company early that day.
“With the approval of the Supervisory Board, the Executive Board of FC Schalke 04 has decided to prematurely terminate the partnership between S04 and GAZPROM,” the club said in a statement.
“The executive board and supervisory board are currently in talks with representatives of the current main sponsor, and further information will be announced in due course.”
UEFA had been one of the most ardent partners of the company, but the latest decision is seen as a massive blow to Putin’s regime.
“Gazprom is Russia’s fossil and climate-damaging artery, which is being severely damaged here,” explained Greens EU lawmaker Michael Bloss.
“This decision closes another money tap for Putin’s war against Ukraine,” he told EURACTIV.
But others are asking what had taken the association so long.
“It was only nine months ago that UEFA were delighted that the Russian majority state-owned company Gazprom had renewed their long-standing Champions League and Euros partnership through to 2024,” said Merrick Haydon, managing director of rEvolution.
At the time, they had described them “as one of their ‘most trusted partners’, and they clearly didn’t envisage being in this position so soon after this announcement,” he told CityAM.
As UEFA terminates the relationship with its long-term partner, it increases the pressure on its counterpart, FIFA, who has yet to hand the energy company a red card. Both FIFA and UEFA had suspended Russia from all events, while FIFA has yet to follow in its counterpart’s footsteps in terms of contracts.
But on the upside, if Gazprom remains relegated, the football sustainability movement and the European Commission may be beneficiaries of the move.
The green upside
Football is crucial in the fight against climate change and is widely considered an effective vector to reach people outside urban areas whose primary concern may not be sustainability.
“Football brings our continent and our planet together. To keep enjoying our favourite game, we need to win the fight against climate change, as a team,” explained Frans Timmermans, European Green Deal chief and vice-president.
In October, the Commission and UEFA had launched a joint environmental-awareness campaign called “Every Trick Counts.” The ad was simple and should convey that “it takes all of our tricks to protect the climate,” said Aleksander Čeferin, president of UEFA, in October as the campaign was launched.
Featuring famous Southern European football stars like Luís Figo of Portugal, Italy’s Gianluigi Buffon and French duo Delphine and Estelle Cascarino, the ad was meant to make sure that every viewer knew that “climate change is one of the biggest challenges facing the world today,” Cascarino said.
There was just one problem. The Commission was harshly criticised for partnering with UEFA, which had received almost €1 billion from Gazprom.
“If UEFA’s commitment to raising awareness of the climate emergency using football’s global reach is sincere, it is difficult to see how this can be reconciled with sponsorship from one of the biggest CO2 emitters in history,” commented InfluenceMap, a climate NGO.
But as UEFA sheds its sponsorship with Gazprom, the biggest point of critique of the advertisement has now fallen away, and the Commission-UEFA partnership may come to be seen in a greener light in the future.
“Football has not only set an example against war but also in terms of climate protection,” said Bloss.
[Edited by Alice Taylor]