Artem Chobanian


Football in Ukraine is constantly getting better and its standard of play is becoming more and more mature. Today, Ukrainian teams are regularly competing at the top level in the Champions League and UEFA Cup. Famous players are bought by the prominent clubs from all over the world.

At the beginning of the 21st century, the PFL (Professional Football League) was established by all Ukrainian football clubs and there appeared a governmental organisation called FUF (Federation of Ukrainian Football), with the aim to promote football and make the Vyscha Liga gain recognition as one of the best in leagues in Europe. There are, of course, lots of things to be done before the FUF can achieve these goals. However, there’s one major problem that prevents Ukrainian football from continuing its development, and that is the quality of refereeing.

Some ten years ago the situation was even worse, but nobody paid attention because all was clear in Ukrainian football: Dynamo Kyiv were the top club and constant champions – all the other sides were just competing for second and third place in the championship. But then Shakhtar Donetsk became very strong due to the millions of oligarch Rinat Akhmetov and began to contest the title with Dynamo. Many managers and football executives think that was the beginning of the problem.

There are just several referees in Ukraine that have undergone proper UEFA training and as such can officiate in European competitions. However, when they do their job ‘at home’, their level of refereeing is so poor one would think they should not be allowed to work even in the Third League!

The major problem here is that almost always referees make their decisions in favour of Dynamo Kyiv, and it never seems to matter which team the famous club is playing against. There are lots of complaints from different clubs in the PFL and FUF, but both organizations cannot really do anything to prevent the situation. Supporters all over Ukraine however believe these organisations just don’t want to act and upset the status quo.

Last year when it was Dynamo Kyiv’s 70th anniversary, it was widely thought that the PFL and FUF were prepared to stand by and watch Kyiv claim the title. Many dubious decisions took place in a raft of matches that many fans felt bias towards Dynamo was as clear as daylight.

Skeptics say the situation will not improve whilst the head of the FUF and the president of Dynamo are the two Surkis brothers, Grigory and Ihor. Perhaps there is a grain of truth in this. Grigory Surkis was the president of Dynamo for many years and then left the position to his brother when he was appointed the head of the FUF.


Several years ago Shakhtar, when playing against Dynamo, insisted on inviting a foreign referee to officiate the match. First, the FUF rejected the idea, but Shakhtar applied to UEFA and the FUF had no choice but to agree to this term. That was the turning point in the attitude to Dynamo. Starting from that match all clubs that have ambitions in the top half of the Vyscha Liga have applied to UEFA to appoint a foreign referee for their matches against Dynamo. No one believes in the Ukrainian referees anymore and what’s even more frustrating is that less and less people trust Dynamo and the national association the FUF.

Dynamo claim they can defeat any team without help from referees, but in almost every match there’s at least two moments of real controversy when the decision always seems to come down on the side of the giant that is Dynamo Kyiv! That is really bad for Ukrainian football and continues to damage its reputation in Europe.

The FUF and PFL have been trying to take positive steps to remedy the matter. They recently decided to ask UEFA for help and sent a number of Ukrainian referees to special UEFA training camps. However, many feel the situation continues to be the same as before.

Some would say that the last match between Tavria and Shakhtar is a vivid example. Tavria played brilliantly, with a real desire to win no matter the cost and scored three times! Shakhtar were outplayed by their much poorer cousins and Tavria were worthy winners. Even the players and Shakhtar’s Romanian coach Mircea Lucescu agreed that Tavria deserved their win. However, the referee was so unconvincing in his decisions that he, not the Tavria players, left Shakhtar without any chances to draw and thus save the match. Meanwhile Dynamo were lucky in their game against Karpaty Lviv when the referee somehow managed to miss an obvious penalty that could have given Karpaty a chance to draw the game.

All these problems make the players and managers very uncomfortable and their frustrations often boil over in post match interviews. After the match against Tavria, Shakhtar star Dario Srna complained of the poor refereeing and was so emotional that he said he was ready to leave Shakhtar only because he felt that the referees in the Ukrainian Vyscha Liga were ruining the game and the desire of players to play.

Fan forums in Ukraine are bursting with discussion and ill-feeling, but no one offers any real solution to the problem.

With Ukraine ready to host the 2012 European Championships with its neighbour Poland, Ukrainian domestic football should be growing and developing. In Shakhtar Donestk and Dynamo Kyiv it has two of the biggest clubs in all Eastern Europe, but it is the refereeing issue, not the standard of play, which is halting the development of Ukrainian football. For the good of Ukraine a solution needs to be found.