One year ago, Ukraine found itself in the middle of a revolution. A popular uprising began against the President Viktor Yanukovych. The population was frustrated by the corruption of the regime, the rejection of European integration and the President using violence against peaceful protesters. The protests turned violent and eventually cost the lives of over 100 people and Viktor Yanukovych fled the country. Could this revolutionary feeling, be moving towards football.
Thursday 11th December saw large protests outside the Football Federation of Ukraine (FFU) offices in Kyiv. Members of the Ultras from FC Dnipro and the defunct FC Kryvbas Kryviy Rih joined Volyn Lutsk, who were protesting against biased referees, corruption in Ukrainian football and against FFU President – Anatoliy Konkov.
The protests were sparked after Sunday 7th December’s scandalous match between Volyn and Metalist, which was abandoned following a pitch invasion and protest by the Volyn Ultras. The fans were angered and pushed over the edge by what they perceived to be biased refereeing by Dmytro Kytakov. Metalist were winning the game at the Avangard Stadium in Lutsk, 2:1 when the invasion occurred and fans chased Kytakov off the pitch. Volyn fans saw this as the last straw and took their protests to the FFU building in Kyiv, while the club have asked for the game to be replayed and for Kytakov to be banned from officiating.
Ukrainian football has long been marred by corruption and allegations of bribery. There have been accusations since Ukraine gained independence, that some clubs have been fronts for money laundering, extortion and sometimes even worse. In 2007, the leadership of Crimean club Tavriya Simferopol were exposed as the front of a criminal gang and more recently FC Metalist Kharkiv have been accused of being a front for money laundering for the regime of disgraced ex-President of Ukraine, Viktor Yanukovych. The last few years in Ukraine have seen several major clubs become defunt, including Arsenal Kyiv and Kryvbas , and the financial problems in the game continue, while the FFU hasn’t taken sufficient action to save these clubs. The current leadership of the FFU appears to have not brought any significant, positive change and has appeared to increase corruption rather than fight it. Sunday 9th December’s game in Lutsk appears to have been the trigger which could launch a revolution in Ukrainian football.
Referees in the Ukrainian game have long been under the influence of corruption and accused of seeking a result in favour of certain teams or in favour of certain owners. Italian super-ref Pierluigi Collina was brought in by the FFU to try and increase the standard of refereeing in Ukraine, however this appears to have been to no avail and the problems persist.
The FFU holds its Annual Congress on December 18th and more protests are expected. The FFU has gone so far as requesting a police presence at the congress in anticipation of protests against the leadership of the organisation. Over the previous weeks there has been growing pressure and announcements of no-confidence in the FFU President Anatoliy Konkov. The Football Federation of Kyiv Oblast has issued a notion of no-confidence and has been joined by the Oblast associations of Volyn, Kirovohrad, Ivano-Frankivsk, Zhytomyr and Khmelnytskyi.
Pressure has been mounting on Mr Konkov to leave his post for weeks. Konkov is seen as an appointee of the Yanukovych regime and there are calls for him to leave as a result of the lustration bill which was passed by the Ukrainian Parliament. Konkov has also come under scrutiny for his handling of the Crimean Question. According to reports, Konkov did not respond to a UEFA letter regarding talks on Crimea and did not attend talks on November 19th or send an FFU delegation. Most figures point to ex-FFU President and current UEFA Vice-President Grigoriy Surkis as the key figure for UEFA reaching their eventual resolution and barring Crimean clubs competing in Russian competition.
Some of Konkov’s allies at the top of the FFU have already given up their posts. Vice-President of FFU Andriy Pavlenko resigned on December 3rd and called-on fellow members of the FFU’s leadership and executive committees to follow his lead and leave their posts. Pavlenko pointed out that the FFU was in crises and the only way to resolve this was with new leadership.
President Konkov however has not followed Pavlenko’s lead and remains adamant that he should stay in his position and that no wholesale change at the top of the FFU are required. Konkov even denies that he refuse UEFA’s invitation to talks on Crimea, claiming he never even received an invitation. It appears that Konkov is set to dig himself in and not give up his position easily.
UEFA and FIFA rules state that any political interference in football would result in a ban on all the countries teams from competing in their events. If Konkov is forced out by political forces this could have consequences for Ukrainian football as a whole and makes the situation even more difficult to assess.
There does not appear to be a strong, single candidate emerging as an opposition to Konkov and a vote on his leadership is not even on the agenda for the annual congress. A heavy protest from fans and dissent from within may well change this course but these are definitely interesting days and many in Ukrainian football are set on change.
Article by Peter Chymera, Vice-President of the UK Ukrainian Sports Supporters Club and Co-founder of the Viktor Leonenko Hall of Fame. Follow Peter on twitter – @PMChymera89