When countries face off in soccer, the world’s game, it can lead to as much drama off the field as on it. Sometimes, it doesn’t even take a match, tensions can flare over something as simple as a country’s jersey.
Euro 2020, scheduled to begin June 11, 2021, after being postponed due to COVID-19, features several countries with long and complex relationships. One of the relationships that is currently the tensest is between Ukraine and Russia.
In the days leading up to one of the biggest international tournaments in the sport, Ukraine released new jerseys, adding fuel to this fire.
Ukraine’s Euro 2020 jerseys have a disputed map on the front
The new Ukraine jersey, which the national team will wear during Euro 2020, features the familiar yellow and blue color scheme that the country’s soccer team has donned for years. The difference with these new jerseys, or kits, as soccer fans call them, is that the new ones have a faint outline of a map of Ukraine on the front.
What’s the problem with that?
In 2014, Russia annexed Crimea, a peninsula in the Black Sea on the eastern end of Ukraine, and backs separatists in the region fighting to sever ties with Ukraine. Fighting in the region since then has killed more than 14,000 people.
The team shirts also include the slogans, “Glory to Ukraine!” and “Glory to the heroes!” ESPN reports that these are official Ukraine military greetings which also doesn’t sit well with the Russians.
Several Russian politicians have spoken out against the jerseys
The Ukraine jerseys have riled up Russians well beyond the soccer field. Several Russian politicians have voiced their displeasure with the on-field fashion choice.
ABC News reports that Russian parliament member Dmitry Svishchev said of the uniforms, “It’s setting the stage for a conflict using the uniform. Sports arenas aren’t for political declarations.”
Maria Zakharova, a spokesperson for the Russian Foreign Ministry, took the criticism even further. She called the jerseys “desperate” and accused the team of wearing slogans used by their country’s military when they fought with the Nazis in WWII.
This situation has enflamed already-tense relations and could worsen if the two teams meet in the tournament or if Ukraine plays a match in one of the tournament’s host cities, St. Petersburg, Russia.
Ukraine and Russia are unlikely to face off in Euro 2020
While the jerseys make for a tense political climate around both country’s Euro 2020 matches, it is improbable that the two sides will play against each other in the tournament. The first time they would be eligible to meet is in the quarterfinals, although neither team projects to make it that far.
Ukraine (No. 24) ranks higher than Russia (No. 38) in the FIFA world rankings. They also have the easier path to the knockout rounds. The team is in Group C, where they will face the Netherlands (No. 16), Austria (No. 23), and North Macedonia (No. 62).
Russia is in Group B of the tournament. While they may get a win versus Finland (No. 54), they will be massive underdogs against Denmark (No. 10) and the No. 1 overall team, Belgium.
Ukraine is not currently not scheduled to play in any of the matches hosted by Russia.
However, for those rooting for international intrigue, there is a slight chance that Ukraine could draw a quarterfinal match in St. Petersburg. If the team finishes third in their group and makes the round of 16 as a wildcard and then upsets a heavily-favored opponent (likely either Poland or Spain), they could feature in a Russian-hosted match.
If this happens, the world will undoubtedly be watching as those yellow and blue jerseys take the field in unfriendly territory.