Russia-Ukraine: The sports world reacts

As political leaders and the world calls on Russia to cease conflict in Ukraine, similar calls are being seen in sports all across the world.

Friday, Washington Capitals star and Russian native Alexander Ovechkin joined the gorwing list of athletes calling on Russia to stop war.

“Please, no more war. It doesn’t matter who is in the war — Russia, Ukraine, different countries — I think we live in a world, like, we have to live in peace and a great world,” Ovechkin said.

Since Tuesday, Feb. 22, many sports organizations, leagues and political figures have opened talks about the removal of Russian affiliation, and some have already acted on the talks.


Alongside Ovechkin, the hockey community has taken a stance against Russia.

The NHL said Monday it was concerned for the Russian-born athletes and their families. The league however said it would only cut ties to Russian sponsors, businesses and social media.

The International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) announced Friday talks were going to take place regarding the 2023 World Juniors and men’s championships, both of which were previously expected to be played in Russia. The IIHF said in a statement that it was “deeply concerned” by the Ukraine crisis.

Over the weekend, Wayne Gretzky and Hayley Wickenheiser called on the IIHF to not allow Russian teams to compete within the upcoming World Jrs championship and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) for how it has handled matters around Russia.

The four-time Olympic gold medallist and a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame, Wickenheiser also posted a picture of a woman holding up a middle finger and wrote “this pretty much sums up how the world feels about your sanctions.” and to “Get out of bed with Putin and lead!”

Monday afternoon the IIHF announced both Russia and Belarus would be suspended from competitions.

“The IIHF is not a political entity and cannot influence the decisions being taken over the war in Ukraine,” Luc Tardiff, the IIHF’s president, said in a statement. “We nevertheless have a duty of care to all of our members and participants and must do all we can to ensure we are able to operate our events in a safe environment for all teams taking part in the IIHF World Championship program.”

At this time, the IIHF has not stated if a new team will replace Russia in the upcoming tournaments. Also stating a new host city for the 2023 tournaments will be selected at a later date.

In the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL), which primarily features Russian teams, Helsinki’s Jokerit announced Thursday night it would be removing itself from the remainder of the KHL season.

Edmonton Oilers legend and chairman of the Jokerit, Jari Kurri said in a statement, “it would have been impossible to extend the season.”

March 3rd, EA games announced Russian teams would be removed from its games like NHL 22 and FIFA 22.


Monday, Feb. 28, FIFA and UEFA announced that all Russian teams would be suspended from all competitions.

“Following the initial decisions adopted by the FIFA Council and the UEFA Executive Committee, which decisions envisaged the adoption of additional measures, FIFA and UEFA have today decided together that all Russian teams, whether national representative teams or club teams, shall be suspended from participation in both FIFA and UEFA competitions until further notice,” FIFA said in a statement.

As a result, Russia will no longer be allowed to play their World Cup Qualifier match against Poland.

Last week, Poland, Sweden, and Czech Republic informed FIFA they would not be travelling to Russia in March for upcoming World Cup Qualifier matches.

The three federations issued a joint statement Thursday, Feb. 24, calling on FIFA and the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) to find an alternative solution to the upcoming matches.

Poland was expected to play in Moscow on March 24 for the semi-final round of World Cup qualifications.

Football statement

Joint statement issued Poland, Sweden and Czehc Republic’s football federations. (Photo Courtesy Poland Football Federation)

The announcement from FIFA will also impact the women’s international in their hunt for qualifying for the 2023 Women’s World Cup.

READ MORE: FIFA changes course, suspending Russian teams from international competitions

FIFA and UEFA’s announcement will also affect Russian clubs that were competing in Europe’s three club competitions – Champions League, Europa League and Conference League. Meaning Russia’s only remaining team, Spartak Moscow, will not be able to play RB Leipzig in the Europa League Round of 16.

UEFA’s Champions League Final was also moved from St. Petersburg to Paris on the morning of Feb. 25.

The move comes after British Prime Minister Boris Johnston and French President Emmanuel Macron called on UEFA to move the prestigious tournament.

“I think it inconceivable that major international football tournaments can take place in Russia after… the invasion of a sovereign country,” stated Johnston on Tuesday.

Soccer Canada also released a statement Monday saying no team within the country will play against a Russian opponent.

Meanwhile, Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich suddenly handed over the “stewardship and care” of the Premier League club to its charitable foundation trustees on Feb. 26.

The move came after a member of the British parliament called for the Russian billionaire to hand over the club in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Abramovich, who has owned Chelsea since 2003, made no mention of the war in his statement.

“During my nearly 20-year ownership of Chelsea FC, I have always viewed my role as a custodian of the club, whose job it is ensuring that we are as successful as we can be today, as well as build for the future, while also playing a positive role in our communities,” he said. “I have always taken decisions with the Club’s best interest at heart. I remain committed to these values. That is why I am today giving trustees of Chelsea’s charitable Foundation the stewardship and care of Chelsea FC.

“I believe that currently they are in the best position to look after the interests of the club, players, staff, and fans.”

Following Chelsea’s dramatic League Cup loss to Liverpool, Chelsea’s charitable Foundation said no deal to take stewardship of the club had been made, despite Abramovich’s abrupt move.

As of March 2, reports from the U.K. say Abramovich has put the London club up for sale. Those reports were confirmed by mid-day when Abramovich released the following statement.

“The sale of the Club will not be fast-tracked but will follow due process. I will not be asking for any loans to be repaid. This has never been about business nor money for me, but about pure passion for the game and Club. Moreover, I have instructed my team to set up a charitable foundation where all net proceeds from the sale will be donated. The foundation will be for the benefit of all victims of the war in Ukraine. This includes providing critical funds towards the urgent and immediate needs of victims, as well as supporting the long-term work of recovery.”

It is believed that his advisors are in contact with multiple billionaires in regard to selling the team.


On Feb. 28, the IOC urged every nation and sporting league – if they hadn’t already – to not invite or allow Russian and Belarussia athletes to compete in competitions.

“The Olympic Movement is united in its mission to contribute to peace through sport and to unite the world in peaceful competition beyond all political disputes,” the IOC wrote in a statement. “The current war in Ukraine, however, puts the Olympic Movement in a dilemma.

“While athletes from Russia and Belarus would be able to continue to participate in sports events, many athletes from Ukraine are prevented from doing so because of the attack on their country.”

The call from the IOC to also ban Belarussian athletes came after Belarus backed the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

READ MORE: IOC calls on sports organizations to bar Russian and Belarusian athletes and officials

Formula 1

On Thursday, Feb. 24, Formula 1 announced the removal of the Sochi Grand Prix from the 2022 season calendar.

The move followed talks with stakeholders and teams after some of the drivers stated earlier in the day they would not race in Russia.

Reports from Sky Sports Germany have said that Haas F1 team has dropped Nikita Mazepin.

The decision comes a day after the Russian driver’s birthday and a couple of days after the governing body of motorsports – the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA) – released a statement saying “Russian/Belarusian drivers, individual competitors and officials to participate in international/zone competitions only in their neutral capacity and under the ‘FIA flag’, subject to specific commitment and adherence to the FIA’s principles of peace and political neutrality.”

The statement meant Mazepin would have been able to retain his seat for the upcoming season if Haas kept him.

It initially looked like Haas cut all ties with Russian sponsor Uralkali, as all sponsor logos were removed and the team completed day three of pre-season testing in Barcelona using a plain white livery.

But reports came out not long after Barcelona testing saying Haas was trying to resolve the issue of their Uralkali sponsorship.

Uralkali became the main sponsor of Haas F1 team after the team announced Nikita Mazepin as one of their two drivers for the 2021 season. Nikita’s father Dmitry Mazepin is the founder of the company Uralkali. Dmitry Mazepin was one of Russia’s business leaders that was seen meeting with Vladimir Putin on Thursday.

Despite the FIA allowing Russian and Belarusian drivers to compete, Motorsport UK said Wednesday it would ban those athletes saying, “No Russian/Belarusian licensed teams are approved to enter motorsport competitions in the UK, no Russian/Belarusian licensed competitors and officials are approved to participate in UK motorsport events, and no Russian/Belarusian national symbols, colours, flags (on uniform, equipment and car) to be displayed at Motorsport UK permitted events.”


Following his victory, Russian Tennis player Andrey Rublev wrote on a camera, “No war please.”

Rublev was later joined by Czech player Jiri Vesely who wrote “No war,” on a camera following his victory.

The pair will meet in the APT Dubai Final.


The International Ski Federation (FIS) also announced Friday, Feb. 25, that Russia will not host any more World Cup ski events.

The announcement came after the FIS failed to host a ski cross event on Friday.

The FIS said a handful of Russian skiers started the races, however many athletes from other countries including Canada did not take part in the event.


Curling Canada said Monday, Feb. 28, that it strongly endorses the announcement from the World Curling Federation (WCF) which would remove Russian teams from upcoming world championship events.

“We urge fellow Member Nations to join us in supporting this WCF announcement, as well as the recent announcement that the 2022 European Curling Championships will be moved from Perm, Russia,” said Curling Canada in a statement.

“We also urge the WCF to continue working toward addressing longstanding, serious concerns that we and other Member Nations have raised about the culture of sport in Russia. These concerns must be dealt with in order to ensure a level playing field for all athletes, and to remain true to the Spirit of Curling.”

The announcement from the WCF enacted emergency powers granting the board of the WCF the ability to remove a member nation from any event.

-With files from Sportsnet staff and the Canadian Press

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