UK government snub is major blow to Ukraine
The Foreign Office's decision to take a hard line on Ukraine by announcing a ministerial boycott of England's Euro 2012 group matches is a significant moment.
It also represents a major shift in attitude. Just last week I was being told the Foreign Office didn't believe in using sport to make political points.
In fact the Foreign Secretary William Hague, a close friend of double Olympic champion and London 2012 chairman Sebastian Coe, told me in an interview recently that we should celebrate sport for sport's sake.
Something has clearly changed and it will be interesting to see if more European countries now announce their intention to snub Ukraine.
Foreign secretary William Hague has decided against sending officials to the Ukraine. Photo: Getty
Other European leaders, including the German Chancellor Angela Merkel, have already criticised the Ukrainian government's treatment of opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko and indicated they would probably not be going to matches.
Although it's worth noting there was serious doubt about whether Sports Minister Hugh Robertson's diary would have allowed him to attend the group stages, the Foreign Office statement - highlighting what it calls "selective justice" in Ukraine - is another blow to the country's reputation on the eve of this tournament.
The fall out from last week's BBC Panorama investigation into racism in Ukrainian football is still being felt and while the four stadiums selected for the Euros are impressive, the country's preparations have been beset by problems and delays.
Many commentators are already questioning why the British government has chosen to make an example of Ukraine when it has turned a blind eye to other oppressive regimes hosting mega sports events. Why Ukraine in 2012 and not Beijing and China in 2008?
Whatever one thinks of the boycott - and it will be interesting to see if ministers hold the line if England defy expectations and advance to the knock-out phase here - it comes with considerable risk.
With the London Olympics only 50 days away the decision could lead to retaliatory boycotts from Ukraine and its allies - not least Russia, whose relationship with the UK is already strained.
London and the UK government may be prepared to accept whatever now develops as the price one pays for making a stand.
But the other question is whether those principles will now extend to banning the head of the Syrian Olympic Committee, General Joumma, who is said to have close connections to the country's leader, President Assad.
So far the government says he hasn't applied to come to the Games but if he does then he will be subject to the usual checks run on all those applying for Olympic accreditation, with anyone considered undesirable told they will not be welcome.
By announcing their Euro 2012 boycott the Government has - in part at least - answered one big sporting question. But they've raised a whole load more.