Fever pitch

31.10.2011 | kyivweekly.com.ua

Shakhtar fans take action

It looks like it will take Shakhtars striking fans to push the complacent Donetsk-based football team and champions of Ukraine to a win. Shakhtar Donetsk is trying to appease its fans, which have started a protest action. The fans vowed to withhold support for the team in the next Champions League game. This may be just as well, considering how lackluster the squad has been performing of late. The protest is much more than against poor performance and the team management has misread its fan-base if that is what it thinks. The protest has political overtones that exploded early this season. Starting in soviet times, the anonymity of a football stadium was a place for ordinary people to vent their daily frustrations against the privileged classes all under the guise of jeering the opposing team. Once again, this tradition has been revived. First, when rival Dynamo Kyiv fans hurled a politically-motivated T-shirt slogan at them. Then there came a series of poor performances against beatable teams. Fans frustration against living in an increasingly autocratic country has boiled over onto the pitch. In the viewpoint of ordinary fans, the under-performance of the over-paid and privileged players parallels too closely much of the political elite. And finally, there are too few local Ukrainian players these days to give fans a feeling of our squad. Donetsk is trying to blame the whole incident on extremist fans using wording in its statement that looks like it was borrowed from Cabinet comments about Tymoshenko supporters. This statement will certainly not soften the hearts of fans but will simply harden their resolve. While Shakhtar might like to remain in denial about the depth of the problem, empty seats at the top European football competition will send a message to Europe. UEFA officials may not like to see their games used for political purposes, but the European parliament will be secretly cheering that even in football ordinary Ukrainians are dissatisfied with the status quo and are now doing something about it. Rather than blame extremist fans, Shakhtar would be best to make its statement on the pitch with a win.

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