The head of football’s world governing body, Fifa, issued a plea on Tuesday for a ceasefire in the war in Ukraine for the duration of the World Cup, calling for all sides to use the tournament as a “positive trigger” to work towards a resolution.
Gianni Infantino, speaking during a lunch with leaders of the G20 major economies on the Indonesian island of Bali, said the month-long World Cup, which starts in Qatar on Sunday, offered a unique platform for peace.
“My plea to all of you, to think on a temporary ceasefire for one month for the duration of the World Cup, or at least the implementation of some humanitarian corridors or anything that could lead to the resumption of dialogue as a first step to peace,” Fifa’s president said.
“You’re the world leaders, you have the ability to influence the course of history. Football and the World Cup are offering you and the world a unique platform of unity and peace all over the world.”
Russia reached the quarter-finals of the last World Cup in 2018, which it hosted, but has been barred from this tournament over its invasion of Ukraine. Ukraine came close to qualifying for Qatar but lost out to Wales in a deciding playoff in June.
Infantino noted that Russia hosted the 2018 edition and Ukraine is bidding to hold the 2030 contest, and as many as 5.5 billion people are expected to watch this year’s event, which could give a message of hope. “Maybe the current World Cup, starting in five days, can be that positive trigger,” he said.
The Premier League has been asked to confirm whether it has investigated the billionaire owner of Manchester City Football Club under its “fit and proper” owners’ test, over allegations of helping Russian oligarchs avoid western sanctions after the invasion of Ukraine.
Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed bin Sultan al-Nahyan, the deputy prime minister of the UAE and a member of the ruling family of Abu Dhabi, has been accused in media reports of helping to allow rich Russians to evade sanctions by moving their assets, including superyachts and private jets, to the Emirates.
A Ukrainian human rights activist, who has chosen to remain anonymous, has hired UK lawyers to inquire whether the Premier League and the Football Association have taken any steps to ascertain whether Mansour “remains a person suitable to be an owner of a football club”. Mansour bought the club in 2008 and has invested billions into transforming it into one of the world’s most successful teams.
In a letter, the lawyers cite media reports that the UAE has emerged as one of the top destinations for oligarchs – including the former Chelsea FC owner Roman Abramovich – seeking to avoid sanctions in the west.
“Many Russian oligarchs and prominent wealthy supporters of President Putin’s regime have continued to conspicuously enjoy their wealth by transferring assets from the UK, US, EU and other jurisdictions in which sanctions are in place, to third-party states without any sanctions regime or any appetite to oppose the Putin regime,” the letter states.
“One of the most high-profile destinations for the assets of sanctioned Russian individuals is the United Arab Emirates, with Dubai and Abu Dhabi apparently being particularly attractive to those individuals.”
The lawyers have also called on the UK government to investigate press reports that Mansour has been “central to the flow of Russian assets to the UAE in the period after the Russian invasion”.
However, they added: “For the avoidance of doubt, we do not positively aver that Sheikh Mansour has undertaken any such conduct which may bring him within the scope of the UK sanctions regime”.
Abramovich’s $350m (£310m) Boeing 787 Dreamliner private jet has been in Dubai since 4 March, just weeks after Putin ordered the invasion of Ukraine. A US federal judge in June signed a warrant authorising the seizure of the jet, which the US Department of Justice says last flew from Moscow to Dubai on 4 March.
Several sanctioned oligarchs have also moved their superyachts to the Emirates. They include the nickel tycoon Vladimir Potanin, whose $300m vessel Nirvana was seen in Dubai in June. Potanin had an estimated $30bn fortune before the war.
The UAE was put on a “grey list” by the global watchdog the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) in March because of deficiencies in its measures to combat money laundering and other financial crimes.
The letter from the British barristers Rhys Davies of Temple Garden Chambers and Ben Keith, of 5 St Andrew’s Hill, draws attention toreportsrelated to 15 sanctioned individuals who are said to have transferred or moved assets via the UAE.
The lawyers say that the UK government should investigate any “legitimate concerns that Sheikh Mansour or any other individual may have provided support to sanctioned individuals” and request information from the Premier League and FA on whether Mansour’s standing as a “fit and proper” owner has been reviewed in light of recent reports.
“We write to you to regarding any steps the Premier League and/or the Football Association may have taken to ascertain whether Sheikh Mansour remains a person suitable to be an owner and/or director of a football club within the owners’ and directors’ tests of both the Football Association and the Premier League,” the letter states. “We further write regarding steps the Football Association and the Premier League may have taken in response to the illegal invasion of Ukraine in order to ensure that any owners and directors of relevant football clubs uphold basic human standards, rights, and values.”
Mansour’s deputy prime minister office in the UAE did not respond to requests for comment. A spokesperson for Manchester City refused to comment. A spokesperson for the Premier League declined to comment. The FA advised that the fit and proper test is the responsibility of the league and not the FA.
A government spokesperson said it had brought in the “most severe and far-reaching economic sanctions Russia has ever faced”, adding: “OFSI [the Office of Financial Sanctions Implementation] takes enforcement action in every reported case of suspected financial sanctions breach.”
Ukraine will join Spain’s and Portugal’s bid to co-host the 2030 World Cup in a move sanctioned by the country’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy.
Confirmation of the partnership is expected at a news conference on Wednesday afternoon. It is understood that Ukraine, which has been under full-scale invasion by Russia since 24 February, will host one of the tournament’s groups if the bid is successful. Spain and Portugal confirmed two years ago that they would make a joint proposal to host in 2030 and the addition of Ukraine would give it a new dimension.
Although Ukraine’s national team are playing their home matches in Poland and the domestic league, which restarted successfully in August, is taking place behind closed doors there is confidence that any security concerns will be far less pronounced in eight years’ time. Ukraine co-hosted Euro 2012 with Poland and has shown it can stage large-scale events in peacetime.
The Uefa-backed bid will face competition, including from a collaboration between Egypt, Greece and Saudi Arabia, and a South American proposal from Uruguay, Argentina, Paraguay and Chile. Last month the Uefa president, Aleksander Ceferin, said he believed Spain and Portugal would put together a “winning bid”.