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."

Start Quote

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”

End Quote

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 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

    Comment number 284.

    I wonder how much was paid for the privilage of hosting the Euro Championships? That's a terrible thing to say and I don't know where I got the idea that there's corruption in a game where teams are allowed to avoid tax in the tens of millions while paying their players phenomenal amounts for running around a bit of grass kicking a ball. It's a joke (and it's not very funny!)

  • rate this

    Comment number 283.

    Yet another 'enemy' of 'democracy' selected by our 'leaders' on our behalf. Let's take a look at the history first "Russia and Ukraine sign oil transfer deal"

    There seems to be a common thread developing in our 'leaders' selection of our 'enemies'. One word, three letters...

  • Comment number 282.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 281.


    DC should take a leaf out of the socialists book.

    So, invent "evidence" that Ukraine is a big threat to the UK, invade it and kill 100,000's in the process.

    Of course if DC wants to send a rapist back to their home country then this is inhumane if they have already beonded with their cat.

    Why oh why do the socialists think they can EVER advise us on this issue?

  • rate this

    Comment number 280.

    273.voice of reason
    "Another example of our leaders using an irrelevant issue to distract the public away from much more serious issues."

    Only half true.
    The wider issues of democracy being eroded after liberties were won if not stopped now will become a very serious issue.

    However, you are also right that the government seek distraction & avoid accountability.

  • rate this

    Comment number 279.

    Why would they be going in the first place? Hopefully not payed for by the taxpayer? UEFA just like FIFA is a self appointed body tasked with looking after their own interests.

  • rate this

    Comment number 278.

    172.Total Mass Retain

    3 Hours ago

    154. Abdi

    The perfect is the enemy of the good!

    I say your quote is a copout so that the self appointed "good guys" can play superhero and save the world from the baddies who can be clearly identified by their pointy horns, red faces and foreign accents.
    Without consistency, there can be no credibility and without credibility there is no trust

  • rate this

    Comment number 277.

    5 Minutes ago
    Surprise - surprise all the lefti whingers and agititators out in force again on the BBC Blogs. What a waste of time and space they are, they should get themselves employed rather than spending time on here. THAT would really help the economy, wouldn't it !
    And your constructive contribution is....?

  • rate this

    Comment number 276.

    We shouldnt even be going, its absolutly disgusting ! However were they allowed to hold it in a country that is so antiquated in its opinions / views. Also if the the mps were going would that have been paid for by us ?

  • rate this

    Comment number 275.

    Surprise - surprise all the lefti whingers and agititators out in force again on the BBC Blogs. What a waste of time and space they are, they should get themselves employed rather than spending time on here. THAT would really help the economy, wouldn't it !

  • rate this

    Comment number 274.

    Ukraine is a captive country its state manipulated from Moscow even the Ukrainian language has been marginalized in favor of Russian under the seditious 'Regions' political formula. Much of the country however is colonized by Russian invaders having killed by famine 10 million Ukrainians in 1932-33. The solution is for western 'european' Ukraine to be independent from the Russified eastern half.

  • rate this

    Comment number 273.

    Another example of our leaders using an irrelevant issue to distract the public away from much more serious issues.

    Get the masses chattering about footie, and they will not be asking hard questions about things like pensions, crime, relationships with the press, past and upcoming wars etc

    And it works every time !

  • rate this

    Comment number 272.

    These selective boycotts are meaningless. Its a football tournament which before a ball has been kicked is already blighted by racist chants towards the Dutch team by Polish fascists. I hope the referee is not deaf or blind and stops games if this sort of thing continues. The BBC deserves credit for highlighting sectarianism and racism in Football.

  • rate this

    Comment number 271.

    135.Lionhearted Cat

    2 Hours ago

    Sporting boycotts worked with South Africa. You don't stop being a human being just because you are watching - or playing - sport.

    Sorry it takes a pretty convuluted argument to equate this boycott with the one in SA, last time I heard people weren't being shot at in the streets of the Ukraine. All it is, is one pro-Western politician being jailed.

  • rate this

    Comment number 270.

    Why rock the boat when English football fans are in another country?

    Surely the issue could be addressed at a later date.

    It appears irresponsible to me.

  • rate this

    Comment number 269.

    "England get to the final and noone from our Government goes to the
    end up as quasi-referees instead:

    JH happy to tell us he'll not be using his invitation to Murdoch's Sky box even though he's under "no legal obligation to do so"

  • rate this

    Comment number 268.

    "Where is Britain's protest against the killing of often 10-25 innocent people at a time, on the basis that the US wants what it is usually a single suspect, to be executed by its drones?"

    Innocents killed by drones?
    Is there any independent validation of the claims?
    The terrorists don't wear uniforms or have Taliban etc on their forehead.
    Women have been suicide bombers.

  • rate this

    Comment number 267.

    Presumably these ministers didn't pay for their own tickets anyway.

    I don't see why the taxpayer should pay to send them on a free holiday.

  • Comment number 266.

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


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