|"We're all Russians now," Sepp tells Vlad.|
A rather visible manifestation of this ongoing (re-)integration of Crimea into Russia is that a number of clubs that formerly belonged to the Ukrainian league have, ah, broken away to join the Russian equivalents, albeit in the third division:
The recent conflict between Russia and Ukraine has impacted directly on football in the region, with three clubs from the annexed Crimea region - including two formerly from Ukraine's top tier - starting the new season in the Russian lower leagues. The clubs - TSK Simferopol, SKChF Sevastopol and Zhemchuzhina Yalta - made their debuts in the Russian Cup this week and have been placed in the third tier of Russian league football. They will play their first matches in the division next week.Talk about a demotion not through football but through political action. Then again, they're playing in a bigger country--at least for now. Already the Ukranian league is complaining to the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) that this breakaway was neither approved nor sanctioned, therefore not permitted:
The Ukraine Football Federation's (FFU) president, Anatoly Konkov, sent a letter of complaint to world governing body Fifa and European football authorities Uefa, asking them to punish the Russian Football Union (RFU) for the move. "As the president of the Ukrainian national association, I am asking you to take all necessary actions to deal with the situation, including applying sanctions," Mr Konkov wrote. "This is a matter for the whole of Ukrainian football."Oh boy, even in a game where twenty-two grown men chase a ball around for ninety minutes there are sanctions. The newly Russianized clubs, however, have been playing under new names and new players to erase the previous Ukranian identity. Does that qualify them as "new"? That will be a bone of contention. Additionally, there are restrictions there on players having to be Russian:
The Russian football authorities did not officially inform Uefa or Fifa about their decision to incorporate the teams. Uefa say they are "monitoring the situation" and are in contact with both national associations to discuss the matter, while Fifa say they are aware of it but that the matter should be dealt with by the European football governing body.
The Crimean clubs have also been renamed and been given Russian addresses. TSK was previously known as SC Tavriya, while SKChF from the city of Sevastopol - where Russia's Black Sea naval fleet is based - had been playing in the Ukrainian Premier League as FC Sevastopol. "We had certain reasons to do that [change the club's name]," a spokesperson for SKChF told the BBC. "It had to be [now known as] another club, not the one that is registered at the Ukrainian Football Federation.Therein lies the rub: under international and not Russian, er, "law," Crimea remains part of Ukraine, hence the legal maneuverings by Ukraine's football league and the breakaway clubs to change their names in preparation for Russian makeover/takeover:
"We got a Russian address and changed the squad, with players who have Russian passports, because we can't use the Crimean players yet." According to Russian third division rules, only players with Russian citizenship can take part in the league.
Russian sports minister Vitaly Mutko - who is also a member of Fifa's executive committee - told reporters that he considers the inclusion of the Crimean clubs an internal Russian affair. One legal expert, Russian sports lawyer Michael Prokopets, questioned the RFU's decision to incorporate the Crimean clubs into the Russian league.As with more things than I can to mention, the only clear-cut victors here will be the lawyers.
"Crimea at the moment is not recognised as a Russian territory by the international community," Mr Prokopets told BBC Russian. "[As far as] Fifa and Uefa [are concerned], it is the territory of Ukraine and therefore they need the permission of Fifa and the FFU."