With the USMNT vs. Ukraine friendly match on March 5, 2014 rapidly approaching and unrest within Ukraine at an all-time high, there has recently been heavy discussion in the soccer world about ensuring that the game is played at a safe venue. Clearly, the U.S. Soccer Federation had the this in mind as they asked for the match to be moved out of the country, and Ukraine granted this wish by agreeing to move the match to the Mediterranean island country of Cyprus.
This is a move that serves all parties involved in a great fashion. For the people of Ukraine, it is clear that many have more on their minds than a soccer match as the nation is in the midst of a revolution which was sparked by president Viktor Yanukovych deciding to back out of an economic arrangement with the European Union.
This sparked mass protests in the capital of Kiev, where armed forces engaged in conflict with protesters for multiple days before seemingly giving up as Yanukovych was thrown out of power by the nations parliament. The threat of violence at a game with the United States — who are a staunch rival to the former president and his Soviet minded rivals — could have stained the image of the people who are fighting for economic independence, and the nation as a whole.
When it comes to the actual Ukraine Soccer Federation, there is truly no win-win to playing a soccer game in Kharkiv, a city that is divided between pro and anti-revolution forces. Being ignorant enough to risk harm to their own players or even the threat of a revolt could have put the nation in hot water with FIFA, and would have risked them having to pick sides in the national divide.
Simply put, there is a time where sports can unite a nation, but that time is not when in-fighting could force fans, coaches and even players on the team to be divided and provide an unruly scene.
To the U.S. Soccer Federation, this one is a no-brainer as the nation is preparing for the 2014 World Cup and doesn’t need to be in a situation where players are at risk on the field. It is one thing when Mexican fans at the Estadio Azteca are shouting vile things and throwing alcoholic beverages at players from the stands, but it is another thing when players could be thrust in the middle of a civil war. Jurgen Klinsmann clearly acknowledged this upgraded risk, and the USMNT will now be able to play a solid Ukraine side in a civil atmosphere.
At the end of the day, there was no real reason why the U.S. and Ukraine would play on March 5, 2014 in Kharkiv, Ukraine, and everyone involved has thankfully acknowledged that. The game will still carry political implications because of the revolution going on in the Ukraine, and the USA’s. inherent involvement as a world power, but it will now refrain from being a legitimate battlefield.