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

    Comment number 105.

    As a football fan, honestly who gives a rats ass if these politicians decide come or not. World Cup 2010 was probably an excellent tournament for a ministers point of view, but the football quality was poor.
    If Poland/ Ukraine can provide the sort of football we saw in 2008 Vienna, then I'm all for it

  • rate this

    Comment number 104.

    Rating of #78 shows how some people can't accept the truth and never will. One rule for others and another for themselves.
    BBC HYSers have a hardcore of prejudiced individuals who are comparable to these hypocritical ministers.

  • rate this

    Comment number 103.

    Austerity! All in it together! So why are we taxpayers financing our Government Ministers and other hangers on to a knees-up in Poland and the Ukraine. First class travel, 5 star hotels, limos, parties, booze, "room service", security and sundries. Probably adds up to £1000 quid a night per person. It's only football, but I guess another excuse for corporate hospitality.

  • Comment number 102.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    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

    Comment number 100.

    The ministers should be supporting the team not making lame excuses for not being present. They will not be missed, but this seems to me to be playing petty politics, exploiting sport for political gain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 99.

    If they truly wanted to boycott and put pressure on the Ukrainian government, why not withdraw their respective country's team from the tournament altogether?
    Fortunately we live under the rule of law, and Ministers have no powers to withdraw a sports team from an overseas competition.

  • rate this

    Comment number 98.

    Who cares ? Lets have a proper story from the BBC.

  • rate this

    Comment number 97.

    Whilst I agree with the boycot

    Why is the UK taxpayer is funding jollies for public servants to attend football matches overseas ?

  • rate this

    Comment number 96.

    I wish the BBC and ITV would boycott the whole thing.

  • rate this

    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

    Comment number 94.

    Star Wars Julia is a listed criminal that played around with billions damaging her country and thus earned 7yrs prison. Facts are out there (but few people here are interested in Ukrainian affairs anyway).

    Either British gov. believes jailing a corrupt politician is violation of human rights or.... (most possible explanation) they resent Ukraine taking distance from the corrupt West.

  • rate this

    Comment number 93.

    BBC is at it again. Diverting attention. Another non story on H Y S. Who gives a rat's ass about politics in the Ukraine. Whilst the lady might be in prison on jumped up charges it should be none of our concern. So what are we missing? Ten week delays in tax refunds, because ....... the treasure is bust?

  • rate this

    Comment number 92.

    "UK government ministers will boycott England's group games"

    Don't they think England will get through?

    Why not boycott all of England's games if they want to make a point?

    Makes no sense.

  • rate this

    Comment number 91.

    //79.Graham A
    18 Minutes ago
    I agree whole heartedly with the Govts position on this issue. Having said that when did we last protest about Guantanamo bay?//

    Yes, it was disgusting that our govt. wasted our money bringing people back from there to the UK. I felt like protesting about that.

  • rate this

    Comment number 90.

    Let's not forget that football is only a game. Therefore, it is debatable whether ministers should be sent abroad at taxpayers' expense to any football tournament, letalone one hosted by a country with a dodgy human rights record.

  • rate this

    Comment number 89.

    A very strong message needs to be sent to governmental leaders flouting basic human rights. The current Ukraine government is determined to carry on repressive measures. The imprisonment of Yulia Tymoshenko is a very sad reminder of repressive methods used by the current leader Viktor Yanukovich. A stinging message should be sent to him: a boycott of the games by participants would be appropriate

  • rate this

    Comment number 88.

    4.Bill Savage
    The British government can protest in the normal channels not indulging the BBC/Guardian lefties with futile and self harmful silliness . What is William Hague thinking of ?
    What are you on about? This has nothing to do with leftism, it’s human decency which is not exclusive to the left.

  • rate this

    Comment number 87.

    one minute the GOV wants to get rid of Human Rights then they make stands for it. they erode UK human rights by changing rules to mean we cant get rid of them regardless of how useless they are for years we are stuck with them. they wont disband their coalition get out clause of its not us its them. let them go to matches at their expense and without their MP/PM titles and trappings

  • rate this

    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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