Home » Sports and Politics

Sports in Ukraine: Ukrainians Are Mad for Football (That's Soccer on This Side of the Pond)

29. November 2012 by Lorena 0 Comments

If you head out to watch the game with a Ukrainian friend, there is one sport that that game is very likely to be: football. (Soccer on this side of the pond.) Football is, by far, the most popular sport in Ukraine.


Ukraine has been influenced in a big way by the Soviet Union’s emphasis on physical fitness. After the end of the Soviet era, Ukrainians had hundreds of gyms, Olympic pools, football fields and other athletic resources. Football was an incredibly popular sport in the Soviet Union during the 1970s and 80s. And, as you may have observed during the Ukraine-hosted 2012 Euro Cup, football continues to be the nation’s passion.


Football has been played in Ukraine since 1905, when a league was established under Austria-Hungarian rule. Lemberg, now Lviv, was the site of the first city championships in western Ukraine. War prevented national competitions in 1920 and 1921. However, in 1922, the first Ukrainian club, Pogon, was admitted to the Polish Football League. Additional leagues were added over the next four years. In 1926, the Ukrainian club Sparta Lwow made it to the final of the Polish Cup.


Football leagues in Ukraine would see periodic disruption due to wars and civil unrest. The Ukrainian clubs were disbanded altogether in 1939 and replaced with Soviet clubs. Throughout the Soviet era, a number of clubs were formed and disbanded. 


After the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, the Football Federation of Ukraine was formed. The first six teams were those that had existed in the Soviet Leagues. The club Dynamo Kyiv, which was established and dominated the sport under the Soviet leagues continued to be the highest ranking club in the Ukrainian leagues, as well. More were added over time, and the teams were split into competitive divisions.


There are now four divisions in Ukrainian men’s football: Premier, First League, Second League and Amateur. The teams in each league play each other twice each season. At the season’s end, the two lowest-performing teams in the top league are demoted to First League, and the top First League teams go up to Premier.


Although Ukraine did not make it to the top when the country hosted the Euro Cup this past June, Ukrainian fans were still excited for the event. It was the first time Ukraine competed in the tournament as an independent nation. 


And yes, sports babe lovers, there are also Ukrainian women’s football teams. The first Ukrainian Women’s Cup game was played in 1992.  There are 8 teams and a total of 222 players in the Women’s Premier Team, which is the only national women’s team.