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Ukraine: No Place For Football

Jack McCann discusses the conflict in Ukraine and the need to delay the start of the Ukrainian football season.

The Donbass Arena, home to Shakhtar Donetsk, is based in the middle of the city of Donetsk in eastern Ukraine. The city is in the middle of a battle between Pro-Russian militia, who control the city, and the Ukrainian Army.

According to reports across many different media outlets:

‘’Six Shakhtar Donetsk players refused to return to the city following Saturday’s friendly in France because of concerns over the conflict in Ukraine…..Alex Teixeira, Fred, Dentinho, Douglas Costa, Facundo Ferreyra and Ismaily did not fly back after the game in Lyon.’’- BBC

On the 19th of July they played a game against Olympique Lyon in Lyon, losing 4-1. After the game the six aforementioned players talked with Kia Joorabchian, who is the agent of all the players apart from Ferreyra. He reportedly persuaded the players not to return with the rest of the squad to Ukraine. He tried and failed with four other players.

Joorabchian will be known to followers of West Ham, as he was the man behind the Tevez/Mascherano deal back in 2006.

Mircea Lucescu, the Shakhtar coach has placed the blame squarely on Joorabchian’s shoulders as he feels that the agent is trying to use the conflict in Ukraine as a way to make more money on players who have a total market value of £46 million pounds (€58 million).

Wanting to make more money seems like the only reason why he would fly all the way to Lyon and talk to six players, one of whom he isn’t the agent for. Had it been one player, then it could have been that a club wanted that player, but six only shows that Joorabchian wants to gain something from these players leaving Donetsk due to the crisis in the country at the moment.

The players not wanting to go back is understandable, even without being persuaded. The Ukrainian football season is scheduled to start this coming weekend and Shakhtar still do not know where they will be playing their home games. They cannot play in the Donbass Arena as it is too dangerous.

The Ukrainian Football Federation should just shelf the start of this coming season until the crisis has been sorted one way or another. However, they may want to start it to try and carry on some semblance of normality among all the chaos.

Rinat Akhmetov, the owner of Donetsk, has stated:

“We will play where we will be allowed to: we would like to do it in Kharkiv [Government held city]. The decision regarding the championship is taken by the Ukrainian Football Federation. Through our game, we will call for peace and try to bring joy to our fans.”

However, how can a Ukrainian football fan or any of the footballers, think of going to the first game of the season when international flights like the Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 are shot down near where their stadium is located. The flight crashed on the July 17th, Shakhtar played their friendly in France on the 19th. Psychologically, the crash could have had an effect on the players.

Not only has an international flight been shot down, there is heavy fighting in Donetsk between both sides, centered thus far at the train station. Many football fans would probably get to Donetsk by train. So football on a Saturday afternoon is the last thing on any Ukrainian’s mind at present.

Jack McCann, Pundit Arena.

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