UK ministers boycott England games in Ukraine

 
Riot police next to a Euro 2012 poster at an opposition demonstration in Kiev on 5/6/2012 England will play two of their group games in Donetsk and one in Kiev

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UK government ministers will boycott England's group games in the European football championships in Ukraine over the country's human rights record.

The UK is particularly concerned at the "selective justice" meted out to jailed opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko.

Other EU nations have also threatened a boycott of the tournament being jointly hosted with Poland.

Ukraine's ambassador to the UK said "sport and politics do not mix" and concerns must be raised in other ways.

Ms Tymoshenko played a key role in the Orange Revolution in 2004 and says her imprisonment, for alleged corruption, is an act of political revenge by Ukraine's President Viktor Yanukovych.

The authorities have rejected Ms Tymoshenko's allegations. She was jailed for seven years in October, for abuse of power during her time as prime minister.

'Rule of law'

Last week, she ended a 20-day hunger strike after being moved to a hospital in Kharkiv where she is being treated by a German doctor.

The UK Foreign Office said no officials would attend the three group games and it was keeping attendance at later stages of the tournament "under review in the light of ministers' busy schedules ahead of the Olympics and widespread concerns about selective justice and the rule of law in Ukraine".

England's group fixtures

  • 11 June: France in Donetsk
  • 15 June: Sweden in Kiev
  • 19 June: Ukraine in Donetsk

Asked about the boycott, Foreign Secretary William Hague said Ukraine had "serious problems" and the UK government did not want its backing for the England team to be interpreted as "giving political support to some things which have been happening in Ukraine which we don't agree with".

The BBC News Channel's chief political correspondent Norman Smith said the move was a "serious diplomatic snub" for Ukraine - which is hoping to use the tournament to boost tourism and showcase the country to the rest of Europe.

Ukrainian foreign ministry spokesman Oleg Voloshin said Britain's concerns were understood, but the boycott would only damage football and would not affect Ms Tymoshenko's case.

'International championship'

And Ukraine's most senior diplomat in London said he was "unaware" the decision was linked to the treatment of Ms Tymoshenko.

"As far as the rule of law and selective justice, there are other forums where these can be discussed and sport and politics don't mix together," Volodymr Khandogiy told the BBC.

He added: "It is their free choice not to go but they should see the issue in the context that this is not about a Ukrainian championship. They are not going to an international championship and they are not supporting their team."

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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”

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If England are to reach the final of the tournament, they must play at least five games in Ukraine.

Should they get through to the knock-out phase, they will play their quarter final in either Donetsk or Kiev. If England come second in their group and go on to win the quarter final, their semi-final will be in Donetsk. The final is to be held in Kiev.

UK Sports Minister Hugh Robertson would normally have been expected to go the group games, but was occupied with Olympic duties, the Department of Culture Media and Sport said.

"No final decision had been taken about which ministers were to go," said a spokesman.

The English team arrived at their base in the Polish city of Krakow on Wednesday ahead of their first game in Donetsk, against France, on Monday.

Asked for his reaction to the boycott, senior Football Association official Adrian Bevington said "we can only focus on our plans".

Ms Tymoshenko's daughter Eugenia this week told BBC News she "understood" the political boycott but wanted the tournament to go ahead.

"We understand the political boycott of European leaders who protect the rule of law, who respect human rights, who cannot go there and shake Yanukovych's hand. But I think sports events should go on... My mother, when she was in government, fought for the right to host this championship in Ukraine."

Polish warning

Poland has warned that the European Union should not push Ukraine into the arms of Russia through a boycott.

Yulia Tymoshenko Yulia Tymoshenko is being treated in hospital after ending a three-week hunger strike

President Bronislaw Komorowski told Polish state television: "We feel that Ukraine is somewhere between a choice of integration with the Western world... or a chance to participate in a customs union proposed by Russia.

"From this point of view, Poland has well-grounded fears that it [boycotting] might result in Ukraine choosing a political route alternative to the process of European integration."

Labour are backing the government's stance.

"It is right that UK ministers will not be attending the championships and the government should take care that none of their actions over the next few weeks are seen to endorse the conduct of the government of Ukraine," shadow foreign secretary Douglas Alexander said.

 

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  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 285.

    I don't think politicians should turn up for football matches in any situation. England should have a policy of donating tickets to charity. They surely have better things to do with their time.
    Keep politics, racism and bad punditry out of football.

  • rate this
    +5

    Comment number 161.

    I hadn`t heard about this story until the Boycott was announced so thats good as it raises awareness. The problem for me is that we pick and choose these matters not on Moral but economic grounds and we seem to do little where the greatest problems exist. Why? Because the financial risk is too high to protest and that seems to dictate policy far more than making a stand for the right reasons!

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 101.

    Is it not time we all grew up, this is a game of football and not a political statement. The ministers should be supporting the country first and foremost.
    I think like most people I am just tired of the petty squabling.

  • rate this
    +11

    Comment number 95.

    Can someome please explain to me why Ministers would be attending football matches (presumambly at taxpayers' expense) in the first place. Haven't we got some more serious issues that our politicians should be working on?

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 86.

    I support the Minister's actions completely. Attending the games would be giving tacit support to a regime with suspect policies. Not going sends a clear signal that embarasses them and draws attention to the issue. Hypocrisy? perhaps. But does the fact that its not practical to intervene everywhere mean you don't intervene when you can?

 

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