Football and Geopolitics: A UEFA Recognized League Starts in the Crimea as (Geo)Politics Meet Industrial Football

Comments Off on Football and Geopolitics: A UEFA Recognized League Starts in the Crimea as (Geo)Politics Meet Industrial Football

On Sunday August 23, 2015 a UEFA-backed league of eight teams started play in the Crimea with SKChF Sevastopol and TSK-Tavria Simferopol playing to a 2-2 draw. The Associated Press story offers few words and no analysis of what is, actually, a groundbreaking event. I have written before on the footballing situation in Ukraine’s Crimea, when Russia attempted to bring the clubs playing on the peninsula into Russia’s footballing structure by placing them in the Russian second division albeit with changed names; it was a bold attempt to solidify their annexation of the territory in the sporting realm. UEFA did not allow that to happen and the teams were dropped from Russia’s second division—it must have been too bold a move for Michel Platini and the rest of the UEFA hierarchy to stomach. Yet they have now, surprisingly, allowed the annexed territory to have their own league separate from Ukraine’s. It sets a dangerous precedent, and seems to be at odds with UEFA’s own stance of staying clear of politics.

Eurasianet has noted before that “Russia is hoping football can become an instrument that it can use to help legitimize its annexation of Crimea.” František Laurinec, the former president of Slovakia’s Football Association and head of a UEFA delegation that visited Crimea in March of 2015, justified UEFA’s approach in sporting terms. It was certainly a harbinger of things to come: “I hope our mission will not undermine the EU’s sanctions against Russia. We only want to prevent the death of football in this part of our Europe. To be pragmatic, we have to say that Crimean clubs are not even currently an active part of Ukrainian football. UEFA wants to help save football in Crimea, especially youth and grassroots [development]. This is a core of our mission and we try to find solutions.” The words are well meaning as they stand, but they are still only words. The reality is that a European entity, UEFA, is tacitly accepting Russia’s land grab in the face of opposition from the European Union and the United States.

Hardcore “Ultras” in Simferopol, one of the cities represented in the new Crimean league, will not be pleased with this development. Oleg, a 23 year old fan quoted by The Guardian, explains that “when the protests in Ukraine started ultras from Tavriya [Simferopol] attended a meeting with hardcore fans from other Ukrainian clubs and agreed there should be a truce: ‘Most ultras are nationalists. We are Ukrainian and we are for a united Ukraine. It was obvious that fighting the authorities was more important than fighting each other’.” The fight will have to go on a little longer, however, following the UEFA decision.

What makes UEFA’s move more puzzling is the fact that European football’s governing body has treated other disputed territories in Europe very differently in the past. Kosovo broke away from Serbia in 2008 but still doesn’t have an independent league recognized by UEFA, despite the fact that its independence is recognized by 23 of the 28 members of the EU. What the difference between UEFA’s “recognition” of the new Crimean league compared to their stance on Kosovo, however, has not yet been explicitly stated by UEFA. Despite UEFA’s opposition to recognizing domestic Kosovar football their national team was allowed to play a FIFA sanctioned friendly against Haiti in March of 2014…in the city of Mitrovica—home to a large amount of Serbs and NATO peacekeepers—no less.

Even more complicated is the case of Gibraltar. The British Overseas Territory is, interestingly enough, recognized by UEFA (a step above Kosovo) but not by FIFA (there they are in the same boat). Still, the territory is lobbying hard for recognition from FIFA despite an abysmal record in qualifying for the 2016 European Championships, which they have been able to participate in after UEFA granted them membership in 2013 over Spanish (and Belorussian) objections. The 16-year history of Gibraltar’s travails to join UEFA is documented in part here.

So what can we understand from UEFA’s politicking regarding the legitimacy of football in countries and territories with varying levels of international recognition? Sadly, as with so much in the industrial football world, it all comes down to money—the same thing that brought hammer of the United States Department of Justice down on FIFA. UEFA does not want to run afoul of Moscow with FIFA having already awarded the 2018 World Cup to Russia. Therefore they are tacitly accepting the annexation of Crimea under the guise of “keeping football afloat on the peninsula”. And, because Russia holds so much influence in FIFA—and thereby UEFA—European Soccer’s governing body cannot accept Kosovo since that would offend Russia’s long-time ally, Serbia. Plus, the Kosovo Superleague isn’t exactly a money making machine. On the other side, Gibraltar has the clout of being a British Overseas Territory—in the first round of voting on Gibraltar’s UEFA accession England, Scotland, and Wales were the only countries to vote for their inclusion in European football. But those three are still influential countries. Spain squawked, but they would never have withdrawn from European competition or allowed Barcelona and Real Madrid to lose out on Champions League revenue over Gibraltar.

And so Gibraltar and its club teams can appear in UEFA competitions while Kosovo’s can’t and the Crimean teams will stay somewhere in limbo, just like the territory they represent. It seems that when it comes to football these days it is money—and not principles—that talk. Just look at some of the Simferopol fans interviewed by the Guardian, who have high hopes for their team’s future under Putin. Vitaly Grenyov says “I think there will be good times ahead for the club. The whole world is going to look at what Putin does with Crimea,” while a Crimean Tatar identified as “Server” hopes that Tavriya become a “showcase” project for the Russian annexation: “I remember from reading in school about tsars and shahs that they always have to provide the people with two things: bread and circuses.” With the focus solely on money, UEFA’s actions are indeed be-fitting of a circus act.


UEFA President Michel Platini Running Off With a Stylish European Leather Satchel of Cash. Image Courtesy of UEFA Awareness at http://uefaawareness.tumblr.com/post/12813829566/bosnians-mock-platini-via-uefas-financial-fair

Sevastopol Fans

“A fan of FC SKChF Sevastopol (СКЧФ Севастополь), formerly FC Sevastopol of the Ukrainian Premier League, holds a team scarf with the colors of the Russian flag and written in Cyrillic ‘Sevastapol – Hero City,’ which refers to the Soviet-era status bestowed upon the port city following World War II”. Image and Caption Courtesy Of: http://www.eurasianet.org/node/72601


Tavriya Simferopol’s Ultras. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/mar/22/crimea-ukraine-football-ultras

Georgian Footballer Jaba Kankava Saves Opponent’s Life in Ukrainian Soccer Match

Comments Off on Georgian Footballer Jaba Kankava Saves Opponent’s Life in Ukrainian Soccer Match

Just a short shout out to footballers in Ukraine practicing fair play in the most real of ways, even while the future of the country remains in limbo. On the weekend during a Dynamo Kiev-Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk match Dynamo captain Oleg Gusev ended up on the wrong side of a strong challenge from Dnipro keeper Denys Boyko. What happened next was frightening, but it brought out the best in humanity.

Dnipro’s Georgian midfielder Jaba Kankava reacted immediately (and seemingly, instinctively) by reaching into Gusev’s mouth to grab his tongue before it was swallowed, saving the Dynamo captain’s life. A YouTube video shows the incident: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c39r13JBCyE.

Indeed, it was an amazing act in a country that has been in the news lately for all the wrong reasons. Respect to Kankava for bringing Ukraine to the forefront of world news for the right reasons and above all for saving a fellow human being’s life.

Ukraine’s Protests From a Football Perspective

1 Comment

I visited Kiev in July but I didn’t see Kiev’s Valeriy Lobanovskyi Dynamo Stadium quite like this. Where i bought tickets to the Dinamo-Sevastopol match is in flames in one of the pictures below, courtesy of Ultra Style’s Facebook page. Here are a few mentions of the role of Ukrainian ultras in the recent protests in Ukraine gleamed from news stories. Sources have been provided:

Shakhtar die-hards support Euromaidan

Here is the Youtube video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OACJC3K-erY&feature=player_embedded

9:27 p.m. Hardcore fans of the Shakhtar football club in Donetsk, the
hometown of President Viktor Yanukovych, expressed their support for
the Euromaidan movement in a video posted to YouTube and embedded

“Glory to Ukraine!” the group of fans chant.

“Glory to Heroes!” others respond.

The slogans were first used by the Ukrainian Insurgent Army and its
leader, Stepan Bandera, a controversial figure revered in western
Ukraine who is often called a Nazi-collaborator by those in the east.
From: https://www.kyivpost.com/content/ukraine/euromaidan-rallies-in-ukraine-jan-23-live-updates-335389.html
Spearheading the clashes with police was Right Sector, a group with
ties to far-right parties including the Patriots of Ukraine and
Trident, which BBC Ukraine reported is largely comprised of
nationalist football fans. In a statement the next day, the group
claimed credit for Sunday’s unrest and promised to continue fighting
until President Viktor Yanukovich stepped down.
From: http://www.thenation.com/article/178013/ukrainian-nationalism-heart-euromaidan#

Elsewhere in Kiev’s Independence Square, protesters reported seeing
“groups of men in sports uniforms carrying baseball bats and chains
surrounding the area,” Yaroshevsky reported.

As the scuffles continued on Monday night, police warned that they may authorize the use of live ammunition, if violence starts spreading out of control.

The warning came amid speculation in the social media, which claimed that the radical protesters will soon be joined by thousands of like-minded activists. The rumors said the reinforcements may come from other countries, where radical football fans are rallying to go to Ukraine and join the confrontation. So far no evidence of those groups has been reported.

On Monday, protesters from radical nationalist groups climbed on to the main gate of the Dynamo football stadium at Hrushevsky Street, using it as a vantage point to bombard riot police with Molotov cocktails
From: http://rt.com/news/police-protesters-violence-ukraine-924/

Right Sector — which includes groups of hard core football fans —
organises its actions on the Internet through Facebook and other
social networks.
From: http://www.google.com/hostednews/afp/article/ALeqM5gfoGA6m8GzKAGu3hE5jXRws8ruVA?docId=15f3ab57-5e5f-4b4f-85e9-ae4f91e0f1f8

A few pictures from the Huffington Post http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2014/01/22/pictures-central-kiev-protests_n_4645476.html:



Kiev’s Valeriy Lobanovskyi Dynamo Stadium, from Ultra Style’s Facebook page:

1551778_595705830499962_225683882_n 1653733_595693437167868_1968267903_n

Kiev’s Valeriy Lobanovskyi Dynamo Stadium in calmer times, from my visit in July:


Kiev NSC Olympiysky Republican Stadium, Kiev, Ukraine: FC Dinamo Kiev-FC Sevastopol (2-0) Matchday


The NSC Olympiysky Republican Stadium in Kiev during a match between Dinamo Kiev and visitors FC Sevastopol.

IMG-20130728-01306 IMG-20130728-01307 IMG-20130728-01308 IMG-20130728-01309 IMG-20130728-01310 IMG-20130728-01311 IMG-20130728-01312 IMG-20130728-01313 IMG-20130728-01314 IMG-20130728-01315 IMG-20130728-01316 IMG-20130728-01317 IMG-20130728-01318 IMG-20130728-01319 IMG-20130728-01320

FC Karpaty Lviv 2011-12 Away Shirt

1 Comment

The Front of the Karpaty Lviv shirt I got in Lviv after visiting their Ukraina Stadium. Unfortuntely, it is the away shirt and as such is not the traditional green and white stripes that the club uses. It was, however, the only Large that the small shop had. Not too much choice, but at 235 Ukrainian Gryvnas I cant complain. The sponsor, Limo, is a local Ice cream manufacturer.


Ukraina Stadium, Lviv, Ukraine – FC Karpaty Lviv

1 Comment

A few shots of Karpaty Lviv’s Ukraina Stadium, and some of the graffiti from the walls surrounding the stadium.

IMG-20130725-01269 IMG-20130725-01268 IMG-20130725-01267 IMG-20130725-01265 IMG-20130725-01264 IMG-20130725-01263