At the beginning of 2022, Akhmetov’s hopes — and the hopes of the Shakhtar fan base — were for new trophies and triumphs on the football pitch. But, he wrote, “The war ruined all our plans and forced us to think about another type of victories, victories over the enemy and liberation of our Ukrainian land from the invaders.”
Just like it had been for all Ukrainians, 2022 was a challenging year for Rinat Akhmetov’s soccer club. And in the same way that countless Ukrainian civilians have risen up in defiance, so too have Shakhtar’s players, who showed their “strength and mettle,” as Akhmetov described it, by performing with dignity in the Champions League, eventually earning the right to represent Ukraine in the UEFA Europa League, with their first match on Feb. 16.
Akhmetov said that Shakhtar’s performance indicates that even in the present landscape, “We are full of the most serious ambitions, [the] will to win and desire to entertain our fans. I am sure that an interesting second part of the season is waiting for us in the Ukrainian championship and European arena.”
Above all else, however, Akhmetov’s ultimate desire, and the desire of Ukrainians everywhere, is for victory and peace. “Peace in Kyiv and Lviv, Kharkiv and Kherson, Odesa and Chernihiv, peace in liberated Ukrainian Donetsk, Luhansk, Mariupol, and Crimea,” he wrote, adding, “We will withstand all severities, we will stand becoming even stronger.”
Rinat Akhmetov Versus FIFA in Court
Despite FC Shakhtar’s success in 2022, a huge legal challenge is going on behind the scenes, as Rinat Akhmetov is presently litigating against the international soccer governing body, FIFA.
Akhmetov’s lawsuit centers on a temporary rule by FIFA that allowed overseas players on Ukrainian teams to suspend their contracts and sign for teams elsewhere because of Russia’s invasion. The Ukrainian Premier League stopped playing for about six months, from February to August 2022.
FC Shakhtar lost several of its top players without receiving a transfer fee because of the temporary rule, which was first implemented in March. The system is expected to continue to run until June 2023 at the earliest.
Under FIFA’s emergency rule change, the suspension is only temporary. This means that many players will eventually have to return to their host teams in Ukraine as their contracts continue to run. With little sign of the war easing, however, many of the players who have already left may be out of contract by the time FIFA lifts the rule. This would enable the players to leave as free agents, potentially costing Ukrainian clubs millions in the process.
“We want fairness and justice,” Sergei Palkin, Shakhtar’s chief executive, said to The New York Times. “On one side, FIFA protects players — but it should also protect clubs.
“Two days before FIFA made the announcement, we almost had a contract on the table; we were to sign the next day,” Palkin said, talking of one high-value transfer from an Italian team that was lost just before Russia’s invasion. The club pulled out of talks when they learned that it could register the same player for free, he added. This left Shakhtar on the hook for $9 million for a player that never even set foot in Ukraine.
No special provisions have been put in place for Ukrainian teams whose finances have been destroyed by the ongoing war. To make matters worse, Shakhtar and other Ukrainian teams are still required to pay money owed to teams outside the country, including for players that have been allowed to suspend their contracts.
Shakhtar Is Losing Players — Fast
According to club officials, efforts to come to an arrangement with FIFA have been met with silence. To date, several Ukrainian teams have asked the governing body to suspend their obligations to other clubs until normal operations can be established.
Rinat Akhmetov’s club has seen millions of dollars worth of talent leave since last February, causing it to lose crucial sources of revenue. Last summer, club officials could only watch as many top players moved without fees to teams in the English Premier League, which has historically been a lucrative market for Shakhtar. Many players also left to join France’s top division.
The club has managed to recoup some of its losses, however. More recently, Mykhailo Mudryk became the latest Ukrainian player to feature in the English Premier League after joining Chelsea. In January, the 22-year-old signed an eight-and-a-half-year deal, with the club paying Shakhtar Donetsk a reported $108 million.
Following the announcement of the transfer, Akhmetov vowed to donate $25 million of the transfer fee to help Ukrainian soldiers, defenders, and their families. “The money will be used to cover different needs, from providing medical and prosthetic treatment and psychological support, to meeting specific requests,” said Akhmetov in a press release. “This is the beginning of the Heart of Azovstal, a brand-new project that will help the Mariupol defenders and the families of fallen soldiers,” he added.
This is the latest in a string of donations made by Akhmetov since Russia’s full-scale invasion last February. Through his charitable foundation and various business enterprises, the billionaire has donated and allocated billions of Ukrainian hryvnia to various aid projects.
Meanwhile, the Ukrainian Premier League is on break for the winter and is scheduled to restart in March. By then, the club hopes that there will be a resolution in Shakhtar’s case against FIFA.