The Russian sports scene took another blow today in the aftermath of the invasion of Ukraine, as the National Hockey League (NHL) suspended its business relationships in the country.
Issuing a statement, North America’s top-flight ice hockey tournament revealed that any arrangements with business partners in Russia have been suspended, noting that it hoped for a ‘peaceful resolution as quickly as possible’ in Ukraine.
As ice hockey is a popular sport in the Russian Federation, the NHL has been working to establish a number of major commercial partnerships in the country – and wider region – in recent years.
Notably, the league named Liga Stavok as its sports betting partner in Setpember last year, with the firm becoming the official sportsbook of the NHL in Russia and the CIS region as well as the competition’s first ever partner in the country.
Additionally, Russian broadcaster Yandex recently extended its media rights arrangement as the main distributor of NHL content in the country. Following today’s statement, both of these arrangements will be void, at least temporarily.
The League added: “We also remain concerned about the well-being of the players from Russia, who play in the NHL on behalf of their NHL Clubs, and not on behalf of Russia. We understand they and their families are being placed in an extremely difficult position.”
Also of significance, the league has also confirmed that it is ‘discontinuing any consideration of Russia as a location for any future competitions involving the NHL’, a move indicative of a common trend in sports business.
Russia’s invasion began last Thursday after years of tension amid a conflict in Eastern Ukraine, the status of Crimea and other political tensions, and has been widely condemned across the international community.
Last week, UEFA made the decision to relocate the 2021/22 Champions League final from the Gazprom Arena in St Petersburg to the Stade de France in Paris, condemning Russia’s actions whilst adding that a final could not be held in a country which is currently at war.
Gazprom, the Russian state-majority owned energy company, was also the primary sponsor of the Champions League until yesterday, when UEFA made the decision to end its partnership with the company – which has played a key role in previous gas disputes between Russia and Ukraine.
Additional developments have seen German Bundesliga club Schalke 04 suspend its agreement with Gazprom, whilst Manchester United has now formally ended its arrangement with Russian airline Aeroflot.
Meanwhile, no Russian team will be allowed to compete in this year’s 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar after a FIFA decree, clubs from the country will have to compete at neutral venues for ‘home’ games and Formula One has ruled that the Russian Grand Prix will not go ahead.
Although Russian and Ukrainian representatives reportedly met at the Belorussian border to negotiate and discuss a ceasefire, the situation on the ground remains bitter, with fighting continuing across the country and a huge convoy of Russian forces pictured heading towards Kyiv.