On September 15 UEFA selected the NSK Olimpiyskiy in Kyiv as the venue that will host the 2018 Champions League Final. The stadium was first constructed in 1923 and underwent its most recent extensive renovation from 2008-11 in preparation for the 2012 European Championships, during which it hosted the final and four other fixtures.
On the club level, however, this will be the first major final to take place in Ukraine. In addition, the Women’s Champions League Final that year, will take place in Kyiv’s second largest ground, the Valeriy Lobanovskyi Dynamo Stadium.
Hosting the Champions League final has been a long-standing objective of Ukrainian football officials, and last November it was announced that the bid received official support from the country’s Cabinet of Ministers. Ironically, this announcement took place on same day that UEFA handed Dynamo Kyiv a two-match stadium ban for racist incidents during their match against Chelsea, a ban that was later reduced to one match.
Futbolgrad has extensively covered the story, especially the inability and unwillingness of Ukrainian authorities to confront the problem and punish those responsible for the attacks on black fans during the match. Nevertheless, the issue did not end up thwarting Kyiv’s chances of hosting the final.
It should also be acknowledged that the incidents during the Chelsea match, and the vast majority of all other disturbances at the NSK Olimpiyskiy, are carried about by a small minority of ultras. These groups were not inside the stadiums during Euro 2012 and are unlikely to have any presence in 2018.
— UEFA (@UEFA) September 15, 2016
That is not to say there is no cause for concern—as the president of the Football Federation of Ukraine Andriy Pavelko said, “The most important thing is that Kyiv must provide safety guarantees to all participants in the future match, starting with the players and ending with the supporters.”
There is also the potentially troubling, albeit improbable scenario of what will transpire if a Russian side were to make the final. At the moment Russian and Ukrainian clubs cannot be drawn together in the Europa League and Champions League until the final, but as NSK Olimpiyskiy will technically be a neutral venue it is impossible to make any similar provisions.
The vice president of the Russian Football Union, Nikita Simonyan, has already expressed his concern, saying “I would not like it for our supporters who want to visit this match to have any problems. But who knows how the hosts and local fans will behave.”
Meanwhile Artem Frankov, Ukrainian journalist and member of the FFU Executive Committee, stated “I do not envision any problems with Russian fans visiting the Champions League final… of course, there will be additional security measures taken to ensure that people of different nationalities feel comfortable in Kyiv.”
On social media, including platforms such as reddit and twitter, some football fans have expressed surprise that such a high-profile event will take place in a country currently embroiled in a military conflict with its neighbor that shows no sign of abating. However, the Donbass War is localized in the far eastern part of the country and Kyiv itself is nearly 600 kilometers from the fighting.
UEFA’s decision still caught many by surprise, but the city now has nearly two years to prepare to host the biggest fixture in European club football. As Pavelko said, “we will do everything for the Champions League final in Kyiv to be exemplary.”