Ukrainian Football Officials Start Dialog on Reforms

Ukrainian Football Officials Start Dialog on Reforms

During last Wednesday’s general meeting of the members of the Ukrainian Premier League in Kyiv’s House of Football, league officials finally took a step toward implementing much needed reform – or at least showed that they are willing to entertain the idea.

The theme of reform has dominated Ukrainian politics and society in the last year, and football is no exception. With pitifully low average attendance figures, numerous clubs in the midst of financial meltdown, and rampant match fixing, Ukrainian football has entered a state of perpetual crisis.

Calls for reform have been made for months now by a number of key individuals, and before the start of the season there was a lot of discussion regarding the possibility of changing the league format. In the end, however, no changes were made, and the Ukrainian Premier League continued operating under the current format with fourteen teams playing each other twice in home and away fixtures.

One of the most vocal proponents of reform has been Shakhtar Donetsk’s General Director Serhiy Palkin. During last week’s meeting Palkin said: “Today there is an urgent need to change the format of the championship. It is necessary to put the league on a commercial footing, to get in contact with the television industry, to take into consideration their ideas. After all, television is the main source of revenue for the league today.”

One of the suggested formats involves the reduction of the league to 12 teams and a split into two groups of six halfway through the season. The top six would compete for the title and the Champions League and Europa League spots, while the bottom half would fight to avoid relegation.

While this proposal enjoys the support of many fans and prominent members of the media such as TV commentator and pundit Viktor Vatsko, the idea of reducing the number of teams remains a point of contention.

Volodymr Hennyson, the Executive Director of the Football Federation of Ukraine, has said that the league should be expanded to 16 teams so that as many regions as possible can be represented in the Premier League.

Hennyson’s comments come in spite of the fact that the league is struggling to keep the current number of 14. After spending months on life support Metalurh Zaporizhya has not found an investor and barring a miracle will not take part in the second half of the season. Metalist Kharkiv and Hoverla Uzhhorod are also in dire financial straits and have not paid wages in months.

At a committee meeting of the FFU earlier this week it was revealed that Metalist and Hoverla, along with Karpaty Lviv, all risk being denied registration for next season’s Premier League campaign.

Before the start of the season all of the clubs signed a memorandum promising to clear their debts by the end of 2015, but this is not a realistic scenario for the crisis-ridden clubs, and as a result this memorandum will likely be extended indefinitely.

In light of these circumstances, Hennyson’s words come across as optimistic at best and delusional at worst. Palkin’s comments were more based in reality: “I’ve heard they want to return to a championship with 16 clubs. Hold on – we can barely finish the season with 14! But through unsporting methods they’re trying to create 16 teams and drown football by tomorrow.”

Last week’s UPL meeting witnessed the creation of a new working group dedicated to reforming the championship’s structure. The first meeting of this group, which consists of representatives from clubs, the federation, and television companies, will occur on 23 December. Reforms are desperately needed to save Ukrainian football. Whether the efforts of this working group will be sufficient remains to be seen.

By Vadim Furmanov –