How the Russia-Ukraine War Is Interfering with Soccer Deals in Brazil

A Brazilian soccer club says it is considering its future relationship with its shirt sponsor after the betting firm had sanctions imposed on it by Ukraine over links with Russia.

Botafogo – who have just blown their chances of a first Series A title since 1995 – signed a two-year deal with the Cyprus-based betting firm, Parimatch, a year ago.

But the ink was barely dry on the largest sponsorship deal in the Rio de Janeiro-based club’s 128-year history when the gambling company was targeted by President Zelenskyy two months later.

Ukraine closed down 287 companies mostly involved in the gambling industry 13 months after Russia’s illegal invasion of the country.

Although he did not offer any evidence or detail, Zelenskyy accused Parimatch and others of profiteering from the war.

Parimatch denies the allegations, insisting it closed down all its operations in Russia after the invasion and says it has donated more than US$ 1 million to the Ukrainian war effort. A petition to have the 50-year sanctions lifted gathered 25,000 signatures in a few days.

But the company’s former CEO, Sergey Portnov, had given several interviews before the war started signaling his intent to gain a strong foothold in the Russian market and break down regulatory barriers there.

He has since been replaced as chief executive but remains chairman and co-owner. His LinkedIn page – written in broken English and on which he calls himself Uncommon Entrepreneur and Business Leader – still lists Russia as one of his company’s markets but he has gone quiet on social media and given few interviews since stepping back.

The sanctions came little over a year after US businessman John Textor took over Botafogo with a 90 per cent share through his investment group, Eagle Football Holdings, promising to invest US$ 80m in the Rio de Janeiro-based club.

In a statement Botafogo said: “SAF Botafogo is aware, through public reporting, of the allegation that an affiliate of Parimatch Brazil may be subject to sanctions imposed by the government of Ukraine.

“We have been informed by Parimatch Brazil that their Ukraine affiliate has denied wrongdoing and is seeking a declaration of good standing in Ukraine. We are continuing to monitor this situation, as well as we are able to do, and we have not yet made a determination regarding the future of our relationship with Parimatch Brazil.”

The Ukraine sanctions also reverberated on the Premier League where Parimatch sponsored four clubs.

Aston Villa terminated its marketing deal almost immediately and Newcastle United does not have any Parimatch branding on its website.

However, Parimatch still lists Chelsea and Leicester as partners, with Leicester extending its contract with the sports tech company. The club is likely to have lost up to £ 100,000 in broadcast rights and sponsorship deals when it was relegated at the end of last season.

Chelsea, which signed a three-year deal with Parimatch in 2021, still carries its insignia on its website.

Bizarrely, Parimatch had suspended its three-year sponsorship of Chelsea, signed in 2021, shortly after the 2022 invasion due to its then-ownership by controversial Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich.

A statement released by the business said: “After considering the situation, we have decided to pause all joint marketing and brand campaigns with the club featuring the Parimatch logo and brand.

“Together with our licensed partner in Great Britain, we have agreed to use the LED display systems at Stamford Bridge exclusively for the promotion of our volunteering and donation activities to help Ukraine, which Chelsea FC are supportive of.”

Botafogo threw away a 14 point lead in Serie A after winning just two of their last 16 games. At the end of the season which finished on Thursday they were in fifth place, six points off the title spot which was taken by Palmeiras.

Anthony Harwood is a former Daily Mail foreign editor.

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