The Football Team Caught Between Borders

The team in 2008.

They are the football team split in two, divided by political and international lines.

Although two versions exist, they are borne of the same Sports Club Tavriya: with one in Russian-annexed Crimea, and the other in Ukraine.

And now with the Russian World Cup mere days away, global attention is focused back on the disputed peninsula and its peculiar state of football.

SC Tavriya, founded in 1958, had been part of the Ukrainian Premier League since its inception. Based in Simferopol on the Crimean peninsula, Tavriya was initially part of the USSR Championship before the fall of the Soviet Union gave rise to the Ukranian Premier League in 1992.

The original team was crowned as the league’s first ever champions in that same year but never managed to win the premiership again.

Their sporting history remained relatively uneventful, with little success other than victory of the Ukrainian Cup in 2010. That is until the Russian annexation of Crimea in 2014, an event which not only shifted political lines but tested fans too.

The team itself requested UEFA and FIFA for a transfer into the Russian League for the following season, only for that request to be refused.

As a result, Russia created its own football league comprised of eight teams entitled the Crimean Football League. And in that league, under a slightly different name, competed FC TSK Simferopol. But not all fans agreed with the move and neither did the Football Federation of Ukraine.

The Federation announced in 2015 that it would re-establish the club with its new home in Beryslav, Ukraine. Under the guidance of  Serhiy Kunitsyn, Tavriya’s former president and also a former Prime Minister of Crimea, the club was reborn as Tavriya Simferopol.

In 2016, the club was added to Group 2 of the Ukrainian Football Amateur League. The club was then promoted into the Ukranian Second League the following year. While the team still exists, albeit in two forms, fans say recent history has impacted negatively on football in Crimea.

Tavria fan Sergei Portnykh, 31, teaches after-school football training and said the sporting scene had been forever altered. “Professional football has basically died in Crimea,” he said.

It remains to be seen whether the World Cup, which begins on Thursday between Russia and Saudi Arabia, will herald any changes to the state of sport in the disputed territory. But some fans say they won’t be supporting the competition at all.

“Holding a tournament there when they’re killing people in Ukraine is disgusting. If I do watch, I’m going to be supporting all the teams who play against Russia,” Oleh Komuniar, a Tavriya fan who now lives in Kiev, told The Guardian.

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