Sports Industry Rallies Against Russian Invasion of Ukraine

Athletes, teams, and sports organizations are standing up to the Russian invasion of Ukraine that has left numerous civilians dead

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In the early hours of February 24, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced a “special military operation” that marked the beginning of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

The world, of course, reacted.  Markets panicked, some Western governments and powers criticized Russia by promising sanctions, but incidentally leaving Ukraine to its fate on the battlefield. Other regimes supported Putin’s decision, and international bodies, such as the United Nations, reacted timidly and diplomatically by calling for a ceasefire.

The sports world, for its part, did not stay behind when it came to reacting to this armed conflict that is breaking with 30 years of peace in Europe. Athletes, teams and sports organizations reacted, for the most part, against the invasion, condemning Putin and Russia’s belligerent efforts.

The historic Ukrainian striker and high-scoring Andriy Shevchenko was one of the most important voices that spoke out about the Russian invasion.

“In the early hours, a full-scale war was initiated by Russia. My people and my family are under attack. Ukraine and its population want peace and territorial integrity. Please, I ask you to support our country and call the Russian government to stop their aggression and violation of international law,” Shevchenko wrote in a post on Instagram.

Andriy Shevchenko’s Instagram post criticizing the Russian invasion in Ukraine and praying for his country.

Ukrainian sportsmen, logically, were the most vocal in the face of the escalating conflict. Ruslan Malivnoskyi, a player of Atalanta of Italy, scored two goals in the UEFA Europa League against Olympiakos of Greece; in the celebration of the first goal, the player sent a message to the whole world: “No war in Ukraine”.

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El mundo del deporte condena la invasión rusa en Ucrania
Ruslan Malinovskyi (left) celebrates by showing a T-shirt reading “No war in Ukraine” after scoring a goal during the UEFA Europa League second leg soccer match Olympiacos vs Atalanta. (EFE)

Likewise, Manchester City left-back and captain of the Ukrainian national team, Oleksandr Zinchenko, dedicated the following words to Putin: “I hope you die suffering the most painful death.”

Oleksandr Zinchenko. (EFE)

At the Barcelona-Napoli match, played at the Diego Armando Maradona stadium, there was also an express plea to stop the war.

A photo provided by SSC Napoli press office shows SSC Napoli and FC Barcelona players holding a banner reading “Stop war” ahead of the second leg of the UEFA Europa League play-off between SSC Napoli and FC Barcelona at the “Diego Armando Maradona” stadium in Naples, Italy, on February 24, 2022. (EFE)

The World Cup, which will be played between November and December in Qatar, was also punctuated by the Russian invasion when the federations of Sweden, Poland and the Czech Republic – which are due to play Russia in the World Cup playoff in March – issued a joint statement saying they refuse to play matches on Russian soil.

Likewise, historic German club Schalke 04, removed Gazprom, a Russian state-owned energy company, which has sponsored the club since 2006, from its jersey. Manchester United, according to The Mirror, also wants to remove Russian airline Aeroflot, with whom it has a sponsorship deal worth 40 million pounds, from its sponsorship.

UEFA gave the final soccer reaction, announcing that it will take the Champions League final away from St. Petersburg. Paris will now host the most important club-level match in the world.

Not only soccer reacted, but also drivers, such as the multi-awarded Sebastian Vettel, who announced that he will not compete in this year’s Russian Grand Prix after the invasion ordered by Vladimir Putin. Max Verstappen and Carlos Sainz also spoke out against the Russian Grand Prix.

Formula 1, after reactions from drivers, fans and the world, decided to suspend the Russian Grand Prix.

“The Formula 1 World Championship visits countries all over the world with a positive vision to unite people, bringing nations together. We are watching the developments in Ukraine with sadness and shock and hope for a swift and peaceful resolution to the present situation,” reads the F1 statement. “On Thursday evening Formula 1, the FIA, and the teams discussed the position of our sport, and the conclusion is, including the view of all relevant stakeholders, that it is impossible to hold the Russian Grand Prix in the current circumstances.”

Something really disheartening and difficult to understand for the common spectator and the protagonists themselves happened in basketball. A few hours after the Russian invasion began, the Ukrainian basketball team was forced to play against the Spanish national team in the qualifiers for the World Basketball Championship. In the run-up to the game, the Spanish newspaper Marca reported that all Ukrainian basketball players were looking at their cell phones for news of the war unleashed in their country.

One of the most emotional moments of the event was the minute of silence, where several Ukrainian players burst into tears, moved by the situation. The Spanish public gave a standing ovation and showed empathy for the Ukrainian team, which had to go out onto the field to play a match that, frankly, should have been suspended for obvious reasons. Their bodies were in Spain, but their heads and hearts were elsewhere.

But not all the reactions in the sports world were from Ukrainians, even in the counterpart, Russia, there were athletes who took a stand against the war, as soccer player Fyodor Smolov did on his Instagram account.  

There were also those affected by his ties with the Russian state, such as tycoon Roman Abramovich, owner of the English club Chelsea, based in London, who was splashed by the noise of the war when The Sun newspaper revealed that his entry to the United Kingdom has apparently been banned for some time because of his friendship with Vladimir Putin.

The Russian invasion has definitely put the world on edge, taking many—including experts—by surprise who never imagined that Putin would order a massive operation on several fronts and on almost the entire Ukrainian territory. That is why sports, an economically and socially essential part of this planet, could not be left out of this historic conflict.

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