Gazprom, the Russian state energy giant, has been among the main sponsors of the Champions League since 2012.
Between 2018 and 2021 this was worth €40mn a year to Uefa.
However, that relationship is about to end as UEFA considers terminating the contract.
The relationship, which was renewed until 2024, is nothing new. But it took the Russian invasion of Ukraine to provoke any real backlash against the Gazprom logo on the advertising boards, hospitality suites, and television screens.
Gazprom also owns football team Zenit St Petersburg and was until this week a mainstay on the shirts of FC Schalke 04, which plays in the energy company’s key German market.
Football had been “sleepwalking into this situation for the best part of 15 years”, Simon Chadwick, professor of Eurasian sports at Emlyon Business School in Paris, told the Financial Times.
As he has pointed out, Gazprom isn’t exactly in the business of selling gas to fans during the half-time interval. His interpretation? Sponsorships in high-profile sports come with soft power and fast-tracked diplomatic meetings.
Yet much of the scrutiny of Uefa’s partnership with the energy company has focused on the location of this season’s Champions League final, which the governing body has moved from the Gazprom Arena in St Petersburg to Paris after mounting political pressure.
Uefa is now seeking to end the sponsorship deal. Gazprom declined to comment to the Pink ‘Un.
In this crisis, one thing has been clear: political leaders are kingmakers in these events, with Uefa thanking French President Emmanuel Macron for “his personal support and commitment” in having the match moved from Russia to the French capital.
Arguably, Russia has already had its return, while Uefa has pocketed the cash.