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Top Flight in Ukraine Survives Early Crisis

Artem Chobanian

Only recently there was almost no chance that the Ukrainian Premier League would start its 2009/10 season on the 17th July. According to a decision handed down by the Pechersky court in Kyiv, the Ukrainian Premier League ceased to be. The league has now been saved, but officially it still doesn’t exist. Ukrainian football is clearly in a mess.

The Premier League was originally established last year as the clubs involved sought to improve the domestic game – that is to say to make it more competitive and raise the general standard of play. Unfortunately however the presidents of the various clubs did not dare slash the number of teams to 12, a move that would have really forced up standards. And so the number remained at 16.

When the Premier League commission gathered together this July they couldn’t have imaged that the decisions they would take would soon be cancelled and the league itself would cease to be. On 1st July, four club owners and seven representatives sat quietly in a conference hall. Matters were discussed, decisions taken and Vitaly Danilov was elected as president of the Premier League. Suddenly Pechersky court officials appeared at proceedings with the shocking news that the Premier League was closed and the 16 clubs, along with the FFU (Football Federation Ukraine) had to create an entirely new organisation to control the domestic top flight.

But the Perchersky court didn’t become involved in football by chance. FC Dnipro owner Ihor Kolomoisky and the technical director of his club, Andrey Stezenko, brought an action against the Premier League, stating there were many reasons that organisation should be closed. So far only two of those reasons are known. The first is that according to the Premier League charter only owners/presidents of the clubs can gather to take decisions on the league. Yet on 1st July only four were present, but they still continued their work, arranging fixtures and passing new rules. Secondly, there were rumoured to be many mistakes made in the governance of the league last season. The Pechersky court registrar reviewed these documents and soon concluded they were illegal. These claims, plus several more unknown at this time, caused the court to dismiss the league just one week before the new season was due to commence.

Chaos reigned. Judicial chaos in Ukraine had impacted on sport in the country. FIFA and UEFA regulations clearly state that all cases should be taken to the court for sport arbitration. If the parties involved are not happy with the decision of this body then there is room to appeal to the highest court in Lausanne. Many are asking the question then as to why exactly Kolomoisky went to the civil court instead.

UEFA have not yet reacted to the events in Ukraine and the FFU president Hryhoriy Surkis demanded club owners form a new body saying: “If they had enough intelligence to destroy the Premier League, they should have even more courage to create a new one”.

Of course, legal issues are not the only thing on fans’ minds. If the body was found to be judicially wrong then how could it have functioned for the whole of the 2008/09 season? Furthermore, does this now mean Dynamo Kyiv are not the champions? Should all the results of the league be cancelled? Despite FIFA regulations confirming the previous championship cannot be cancelled as the court case came after the season had ended, these questions linger on.

Key players in the saga have had their say:

Ihor Kolomoisky, Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk owner

We were convinced about illegal procedures for Premier League registration last year and this year’s events and Vitaly Danilov’s election with only four presidents present exasperated us. We decided to sue the Premier League to settle matters legally. If we are unable to come to a reasonable agreement, let UEFA and the Lausanne court decide everything…

Sergei Palkin, Shakhtar Donetsk director

It’s impossible to complete the Premier League puzzle without the FFU and UEFA. No matter what Kolomoisky and Stezenko had in mind, they shouldn’t have acted that way and just a week before the start of the 2009/10 season. It’s unjust for the clubs that need practice before their Champion Leagues and UEFA Cup matches. Moreover, with all this instability and chaos UEFA can fine us and leave Shakhtar, Dynamo, Metalist and Vorskla out of the major European tournaments…

Ihor Surkis, Dynamo Kyiv owner

I see no problem here. Let’s get together and decide how we can create a legal organization – call it the Premier League – that will supervise the top 16, and have an official president. The thing is, however, that not all owners want Vitaly Danilov as Premier league president and we are short of time to quarrel and argue. I suppose Stezenko, Kolomoisky and the Pechersky court were too fast and irresponsible with their decision. But this is a lesson for us that we can discuss later. Now we have to start the championship…

Hrihory Surkis, the FFU president, decided to use his power as the head of all Ukrainian football to put an end to the crisis and ensure there will indeed be a Premier League. Surkis gathered a special session of the FFU and invited the presidents/owners of the clubs. Surkis said UEFA had given their okay for the meeting.

The deal which emerged set down several new rules:

1. The registrar of the court and the Premier League have 30 days to make the changes necessary for official registration. They also must decide on the structure of the new Premier League and how it will function.

2. The limit for the number of foreign players taking part in a match is seven. But next season this will be reduced to six. It is hoped this will help Ukrainian players to flourish.

3. There will be no foreign referees for domestic matches, except for the cup final, or decisive matches at the end of the Premier League, especially if two teams are level on equal points.

Hryhoriy Surkis has banged heads together and rescued the Premier League. It remains to be seen if the road ahead is smooth or as bumpy as the one so recently travelled.

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Published: Friday, 17th Jul 2009