UEFA Congress in times of war: Ukraine in front of a bomb pit, Russia in Vienna

The UEFA Congress in Wartime
Ukraine in front of a bomb pit, Russia in Vienna

The war in Ukraine remains the most difficult topic for football. Delegates to the UEFA Congress show the consequences of the conflict. In the evening, the country’s national team and Borussia Mönchengladbach put a sign of peace.

Andrei Pavlko was standing in front of a bomb pit. The head of the Ukrainian Federation was wearing a protective suit when he spoke in a shaky live video from a devastated stadium in Chernihiv on Wednesday. “The Ukrainian football community saves lives and saves the lives of children,” the 46-year-old told delegates at the UEFA Congress in Vienna. Tranquility prevailed in the conference hall of the exhibition center in the Austrian capital. Dealing with Russia’s war of aggression in Ukraine remains a football tightrope walk.

The European League has excluded Russian clubs from all competitions and has also moved the Champions League final from St Petersburg to Paris – but the Russian Federation will remain part of UEFA for the time being. Alexander Aliyev, the Young General Secretary of the Russian Federation was in Vienna. He does not want to comment.

UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin avoided clear statements about further sanctions against the Russian Federation, saying it was “premature” to talk about it. “I wouldn’t rule out anything, but I wouldn’t say it will happen in the future either,” the Slovenian said at noon during the press conference. We hope that this madness will end as soon as possible.” And Shifrin defended himself against a general suspicion that officials are automatically close to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

‘We were bombed’

“Football is undoubtedly the loser. One of the losers, as we remove the passion and dreams of players, coaches and fans who have nothing to do with the current situation,” the UEFA president said during his speech to Congress, citing other points. Where football has always won. But when UEFA imposed unprecedented sanctions, football was trying to make its meager contribution to the community of Europe and the politicians working for peace.

Then Pavlko reported live. Despite the sound issues, the 46-year-old was able to get his message across from a seemingly eerie sight under a bright blue sky in the bombed stadium. “Behind me you can see the stadium that was hit. You can see that the field was completely destroyed. We were bombed, even today in the area, bombs fell here,” said the head of the Federation of the Northern Ukrainian Region.

According to a translation of the umbrella organization, Pavlko said he did not have the “moral right” to leave Ukraine and travel to the UEFA congress in Vienna. “But I’m sure we will discuss important things together at the next conference.”

The new normal for Ukrainian football

A few hours after Paulko’s impressive performance, the Ukraine national team and Borussia Monchengladbach set an emotional sporting mark for peace in a meaningful match. The focus was on solidarity and tangible assistance. Most of the 2,023 spectators sang and applauded for both teams as Ukraine made it 2-1 (1-1) at Borussia Park. Among the fans were many Ukrainians who were allowed to be there for free. For the national team, it was the first match since the beginning of the Russian invasion.

The game aims to help Ukraine on two levels. All the money earned goes to help people suffering from war. But the meeting was also important from a sporting point of view. National players who played in their home country before the war lack competitive practice. The national team is scheduled to play the semi-finals of the World Cup qualifiers in Scotland on June 1. If Ukraine wins, they will play Wales four days later for a place in the World Cup in Qatar. “It is very important for our national team and our country to make it,” former Bundesliga professional Andrei Voronin told the stadium microphone.

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