Mark Temnycky –
In early March 2020, the World Health Organization declared the coronavirus outbreak a pandemic. Governments throughout the world were urged to keep their citizens at home, and in an attempt to prevent the spread of the disease, countries began to shut down their restaurants, bars, shopping centers and other nonessential stores until further notice. Professional sporting events were also suspended, and it is unknown how long this global quarantine will last. The fear caused by the coronavirus has threatened the markets and has resulted in millions of job losses.
One of the countries most vulnerable to the coronavirus pandemic is Ukraine. The former Soviet republic is the poorest country in Europe, and it has struggled to recover from the Great Recession in 2008. Ukraine was on track to recover from the 2008 crisis, as its gross domestic product started to grow in 2016, but the coronavirus threatens to undo this success.
Ukraine reported its first corona case in early March, and like other countries throughout the world, the Ukrainian government implemented a nationwide quarantine. Ukraine reports it has more than 1,000 coronavirus cases, and nearly one million citizens have lost their jobs.
Citizens typically turn to cultural and sporting events during these times, as they would serve as a means of coping with the dire situations at hand. One example was Ukrainian football, as various clubs and national teams were critically acclaimed. From Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk’s unlikely appearance in the 2014/15 UEFA Europa League final to Ukraine winning the U-20s World Cup, these athletes helped improved the mindsets of Ukrainians during these trying times.
Unfortunately, Ukrainian football has also been severely affected by the coronavirus pandemic. On 17 March, the board of the Ukrainian Premier Liha announced that Ukrainian football would be suspended until further notice. The Ukrainian Football Association stressed it would not risk the health and safety of the Ukrainian people, and it stated that football would return until the pandemic had ended.
Based on the current trajectory of the pandemic, it is unlikely that football will return anytime soon. In the meantime, the UPL has continued to keep tabs on its clubs. The clubs competing in the UPL are also doing everything they can to ensure that their players stay put and that they do not force their way to a different location.
Andriy Pavelko, the president of the Football Federation of Ukraine, believes the effects of the coronavirus pandemic will be grave on Ukrainian football. Nonetheless, the FFU is doing everything it can to minimize the effects felt by the pandemic.
While the financial situation of the coronavirus has not yet affected the players of the UPL, as there have not been any salary reductions, it is possible the coronavirus pandemic could draw parallels to the outbreak of the Donbas conflict. Following the start of the Donbas conflict in 2014, several Ukrainian clubs chose to relocate. Players left their homes in eastern Ukraine with their families, and they were forced to leave their belongings behind. The situation also saw several players leave the UPL, as these individuals feared for their safety and they chose to compete in leagues outside of Ukraine.
The decision to relocate out of eastern Ukraine also forced some clubs to declare bankruptcy. Ukrainian clubs such as Metalurh Donetsk and Metalist Kharkiv folded as they were unable to build a base outside of their native homes, and the liquidation of these clubs resulted in the reduction of the size of the UPL.
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Though the two situations are not entirely comparable, they could have similar outcomes. Given that Ukrainian football has been suspended until further notice, clubs are not generating revenue, thus clubs may take action to save their revenue. While purely speculative, clubs may have to reduce the salaries of their players to stay afloat. Clubs could also furlough their staff to save money. Depending on how the coronavirus pandemic evolves, some clubs may go bankrupt.
Overall, the coronavirus pandemic has caused a lot of uncertainty as no one knows how long the pandemic will last. The pandemic has hurt the global market, and it has led to the deaths of thousands while also forcing millions to lose their jobs.
While the pandemic has also affected various sporting events, what matters most is that people remain healthy and safe. Football will eventually return, but for now humanity must do all they can to slow down the spread of the disease. People must work together during this dire period in history. Human lives depend on it.
Mark Temnycky is an AIPS accredited journalist who covers the Ukrainian men’s national team and Ukrainian clubs competing in the UEFA Champions League and UEFA Europa League for the Futbolgrad Network. Follow him @MTemnycky