Vadim Furmanov –
Futbolgrad’s Ukrainian Premier League roundup from matchday 17 focuses on weather cancellations, which revealed significant infrastructural and organizational problems.
The last week in Ukrainian football has witnessed the emergence of an unlikely antagonist—the weather. The freezing temperatures and heavy snowfall that have descended on large areas of Ukraine recently have led to cancellations and unscheduled changes of venue in both the cup and the league, and the resulting fallout and controversy provides a glimpse into the disorganization and infrastructural shortcomings that are prevalent in the country’s football scene.
The first fixtures to be affected were the midweek Ukrainian Cup matches of Shakhtar and Dynamo. Both sides were set to face teams from the First League in the quarterfinals on Wednesday— Dynamo traveled to Okhrytka to take on Naftovyk-Ukrnafta, while Shakhtar were scheduled to play FC Poltava.
First League clubs are not required to have under-soil heating
First league clubs are not required to have under-soil heating systems installed in their stadiums, and this turned out to be the decisive factor in the postponement of the matches. With the pitch in Poltava frozen solid, referee Serhiy Berezka made the decision that the conditions were too unsafe to allow a match to take place.
Shakhtar general director, Serhiy Palkin, was fiercely critical of the first league club and stated, “There is such a thing as the weather forecast. If you know that your pitch has no heating and at night it is below negative 15 degrees, what were you even thinking about? You could have made arrangements with [Premier league side] Vorskla to have the match take place in the city, and everyone would have been happy.”
Palkin went on to say that, given the circumstances and the lack of available calendar dates, he saw no alternative but to record the match as a technical defeat for FC Poltava.
Several hours after Berezka made the decision in Poltava to postpone the match, fellow referee Yaroslav Kozyk reached the same conclusion in Okhrytka. The match between Naftovyk-Ukrnafa and Dynamo was also called off.
Dynamo manager, Serhiy Rebrov, was, like Palkin, furious at the decision: “To be honest, I don’t know who should be responsible for this. This is not force majeure, after all, everyone understood that the temperature would be this low. Why did we and Shakhtar fly to these matches if everyone knew perfectly that it would be impossible to play?”
Several days later, Volodymyr Knysh, manager of Naftovyk-Ukrnafta, directly contradicted Rebrov, by maintaining, “This is definitely a force majeure!” and claiming that everything possible was done to allow the match to take place. “At -13 without heating, it’s impossible to play.”
The reactions of football officials were also divergent. Volodymr Heninson, the president of the Premier League, stated that he is in favor of punishing the two first league clubs with technical defeats. Meanwhile, Serhiy Makarov, president of the Professional Football League of Ukraine, which oversees the First League, argued that the matches should be rescheduled.
Winter cancelations reveal infrastructure problems in the Ukrainian Premier League
The midweek controversy continued into the weekend fixtures. Olimpik Donetsk currently play their home matches at the Yuvileiny Stadium in Sumy, which does have an under-soil heating system installed.
However, on the eve of Sunday’s match against Karpaty Lviv, Olimpik’s sporting director revealed that the last time that the heating system had actually been turned on was nearly a decade ago. In the end, the referee decided that the pitch, three-fourths of which was covered by a layer of ice, was unsafe, and postponed the match indefinitely.
Olimpik’s president, Vladyslav Helzyn, later stated that Olimpik had been seeking alternatives in the buildup to the match, but were unable to secure a pitch in time. One of the options was the Arena Lviv, but Karpaty and Olimpik were reportedly unable to reach an agreement on the financial details.
Heninson reiterated afterwards that there are no available calendar dates to reschedule the match, but ultimately the decision regarding all three matches will be the responsibility of the Control-Disciplinary Committee of the Football Federation of Ukraine. Yevhen Dikiy, the executive director of the committee, has stressed that Olimpik’s difficult situation and lack of permanent home stadium will be taken into consideration during the hearing.
The poor planning and lack of communication between the various parties contributed to the cancellation of the matches in the cup and the league, which could have and should have been avoided. As Palkin pointed out, weather forecasts do in fact exist, and it does not take a meteorologist or any other kind of expert to realize that playing on a field with no heating system in subzero temperatures presents a danger to the players. But proper measures were not taken, and now no one is taking responsibility. The situation was unfortunate, but predictable.
Ukrainian Premier League – Talking Points
- The match between Zirka Kropyvnytskyi and local rivals FC Oleksandriya was moved to Zaporizhia due to weather conditions, but did take place. 253 fans were in attendance, making this the worst attended match all season. The average attendance for all matches in this round was 1,075 – the worst in the history of an independent Ukrainian league. The overall average for the season thus far is 4,504, which is also the worst in history and, barring an unforeseen increase in popularity, will also likely break the record.
- Dynamo gave up a 2-0 lead away at Vorskla Poltava and ended up drawing the match 2-2, yet again dropping points and increasing the pressure on manager, Serhiy Rebrov. Dynamo are now 10 points behind Shakhtar, whom they face on Monday in the last match before the winter break. Anything other than a victory may result in the end of Rebrov’s spell at the club.
- No trouble for Shakhtar yet again, as they cruised to a 2-0 victory over Stal. Marlos made up for his rare penalty miss last week against Dnipro with an impressive Panenka to give Shakthar the lead in the 31st minute, and a stunning long range curler from Taison in the second half doubled their advantage and secured their victory. Shakhtar remain unbeaten in the league and appear well on their way to reclaiming the Premier League crown.
- Zorya fought back from a 2-0 lead against Dnipro and leveled the match within a four minute stretch in the second half, but a 79th minute strike from Vladyslav Kochergin handed Dnipro their second victory in three matches and moved them up to 10th in the table. Zorya, meanwhile, are now winless in four league matches after a stretch of five victories in six. Though they remain in third in the table, they now just have a four point cushion over Olimpik, who have a game in hand (albeit one they may never play).
Ukrainian Premier League – Standings
Ukrainian Premier League – Highlights
Vadim Furmanov is a recent graduate of the University of Chicago with a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science. Originally from Ukraine, Vadim has resided in Chicago since 1994 and is a passionate supporter of both Dynamo Kyiv and the Ukrainian national team. He is also a Chicago Fire season ticket holder and a member of the Fire’s Section 8 supporters group. He writes primarily about Ukrainian football, as well as the intersection between football, politics, and history. You can follow Vadim on Twitter @vfurmanov.
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