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 125.

    A meaningless gesture when our politicians are quite happy to doff their caps to the likes of China. Morals should not be dependent on circumstances.

  • rate this

    Comment number 124.

    good we save the money spent sending them there, hopefully we can get them to boycott lots of other sporting events & ave some more money

  • rate this

    Comment number 123.

    Another distraction to make you look (pasty tax) away from the realities.
    If our Ministers had any concerns over Human Rights, they would begin at home and abolish our system that provides minor offenders with a lifelong criminal record in the form of police cautions.

  • rate this

    Comment number 122.

    We're hardly squeaky clean in this country either. The government is making the most out of this to deflect the public from its own shortcomings. They are sure to cry foul if there is one dissenting word from other countries during the olympics, but as this is only England (and not Britain) and football, then its seen a soft target.

  • Comment number 121.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 120.

    What about the Olympics in China? Boycott anyone? 80 odd folks smashed up by tanks not enough for you lot eh? Qatar world cup? Anyone? South Africa president's polygamy and insane HIV policies? Anyone? Sochi winter Olympics in the world's beacon of democracy? Tell you what: hold Olympics, World Cup, Euro et all in Zimbawe and be done with it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 119.

    So. Our politicians will boycott the event, not because of likely racist abuse to visiting players and supporters, including ours (Which Ukraine have done nothing about since getting the Cup) but because a former political leader is in jail for abuse of power. Interesting choice.

  • rate this

    Comment number 118.

    More pathetic panto from the Tory PR department.

    Why was there no media coverage of Hammond's little jaunt to Uzbekistan back in February?

    The delightful chap in charge there has a penchant for boiling his enemies alive - still, at least all the youngsters have a job over there.

    Same old rank hypocrisy - same old tories.

  • Comment number 117.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 116.

    So lets get this straight, they are boycotting the qualifiers only (at this stage). And if Yulia Tymoshenko is not released before the qualifiers finish?!!!! Hypocrites will no doubt turn up at the knock-out stages and then the final when we reach it (and win). What a tragic and pathetic gesture by an out-of-touch Foreign Office (based on the apology they made over the Panorama lies).

  • rate this

    Comment number 115.

    104 spoton

    Bobby Sands was a convicted member of the IRA for gods sake, and involved in at least one gun battle with the RUC. He became officer commanding of the IRA in Long Kesh. He was NOT a 'political activist". Equating his fanatical suicide, designed to provoke civil war, with Yulia Tymoshenko is embarrassing for both you and the original poster. Shame on you.

  • rate this

    Comment number 114.

    That'll save a couple of tax-funded jollies at least. At the same time the UK will not be seen poking its nose into snother country's business as happens all too often.

  • rate this

    Comment number 113.

    Why on earth would they go in the first place? Of what benefit is that to our country? In any event, this government's ministers are more golf and polo than football.

  • rate this

    Comment number 112.

    If the Government was that bothered about a dodgy politician in the Ukraine then it should have banned the football team from participating in the tournament.This "boycott" in meaningless,presumably the politicians will all turn up for the final even though England will not be participating.

  • rate this

    Comment number 111.

    Thankyou Violet Mildred for applying some common sense. The cost of the trip is neither here nor there. The benefits of showing support for your country are immesurable. Any real news about?

  • rate this

    Comment number 110.

    It seems politicians will jump on any bandwagon they can to deflect attention from the paucity of their handling of the economy, dismantling of the rights of workers, human rights in this country to a decent life by the average person and the right to voice a different opinion from theirs. Clean up your own back yard before you go commenting about someone else's.

  • Comment number 109.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 108.

    Maybe it's time for the politicians to focus on the problems in the UK rather than worring about whats happening in Syria, Ukraine, Greece and Spain. Don't think the racism that the overpaid diving prima donnas will get is anything like as bad as 'real workers' such as NHS staff will get during the same period

  • rate this

    Comment number 107.

    We support far worse like the Sri Lankan's this week. Indeed Hague let Gaddafi's chief murderer and torturer Moussa Koussa leave the country with all his stolen money.

  • rate this

    Comment number 106.

    The ConDems are foregoing a jolly here in order to make a minor and soon to be forgotten political statement.

    If the FA had any honour, they'd be pulling the team out of the competition before it starts, rather than waiting for the inevitable early exit via a penalty shootout.


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