Political Uncertainty In Ukraine Shakes Up Country's Sports, Including Top Football Clubs
The recent change of political regime in Ukraine and secession of the Crimea peninsular region to Russia are taking a toll on the country's sports industry. The future of several major sports clubs owned by tycoons linked to ousted President Viktor Yanukovych is uncertain, and so are those of two football squads in Ukraine's top tier. A FC Sevastopol spokesperson declined to comment on the financial situation or the future of the squad based in Sevastopol, a city that is home to a Russian navy base in Crimea. However, the president of Sevastopol already left the exec committee of the Ukrainian Football Federation. A spokesperson for another Crimean squad, Tavria, said that pulling out of the Ukrainian league and joining the Russian league is not an issue that could be resolved overnight. The spokesperson said, "We are determined to do everything we can to finish this season in the Ukrainian league." Meanwhile, financial reasons could prevent Tavria from finishing the season at all. Crimea's first Deputy PM Rustam Temirgaliyev was quoted by R-Sport as saying that funding for the squad has been cut. "Tavria's sponsor is a well-known Ukrainian tycoon who is now having problems with the law," he said, apparently referring to Dmitry Firtash, who was recently detained in Vienna and is being held for possible extradition to the U.S. under a corruption investigation. Firtash is not the only Ukrainian football club owner who has faced problems after Yanukovych's regime collapsed. Another entrepreneur close to Yanukovych was Metallist Kharkov Owner and President Sergei Kurchenko. Ukrainian authorities have recently issued an int'l arrest warrant for Kurchenko, who left the country in late February, his whereabouts being unknown ever since. He is being suspected of misappropriation of funds. As the financial prospects of the club became unclear, several major players and coach Miron Markevich left the squad. Kurchenko's disappearance has also had an impact on Ukraine's decision to pull out of hosting EuroBasket 2015, recently announced by the organizational committee. Kurchenko had reportedly planned to invest about $45M in preparations for the event. While no one has stepped in to replace him, the government does not have enough cash to foot the bill. At the same time, nearly all foreign players left FC Chernomorets Odessa, owned by oligarch Leonid Klimov, a member of Yanukovych's Party of Regions. A source familiar with the situation in Ukrainian football told SBD Global that the budget of Chernomorets had been substantially reduced and the squad could cease to exist this coming summer, while the future of four more first-tier football clubs owned by people associated with the Party of Regions is up in the clouds. Meanwhile, the situation with Olympic sports funded by the government, unlike football, basketball and ice hockey, which attracted private investors, is even more difficult as the government is planning a set of austerity measures.
Vladimir Kozlov is a writer in Moscow.