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 305.

    With both the human right problem and then the racism the tournament should never have been awarded to these countries in the first place.
    The whole thing should now be cancelled. Simple as that.

  • rate this

    Comment number 304.

    Too many free trips anyway.

  • rate this

    Comment number 303.

    As someone who is middle of the road, why is it that right wing activists call anybody that disagrees a 'lefty', when there is no proof that a person is? I suggest it may be because the majority of the mainstream media already express the views of the right and this is the only way that the left can get their message out. Please debate...

  • rate this

    Comment number 302.

    They would have gone, if they could still get away with claiming for it on expenses.

  • rate this

    Comment number 301.

    Blackie1947: just about some folks from Manchester listen to you and 1947 is indeed an aptly chosen alias as it is the year you are obviously still living in.

  • Comment number 300.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 299.


    Well said.

    Why do they feel empowered to lecture us on human rights when they made a complete mess of it when in power? Iraq, Water Boarding, the Uman Rites Act, Afganhistan and Libia were all disasters.

    Before this they spent decades calling each other comrade and saying that Soviet Russia was the utopian future we should all aspire to.

    Truely bizarre.

  • rate this

    Comment number 298.


    "I hope politicians who support gay marriage and gay rights will stand by their principles when the team plays in Qatar. Whoops, sorry, that is one of the countries adhering to M principles, for which criticism indicates a serious medical condition described as a phobia."

    Rather like criticism of gay marriage, that indicates a serious medical condition described as a phobia.

  • rate this

    Comment number 297.

    They're failing on the economy, failing on job creation, failing on growth, failing the worst off in Society.
    They won't risk going to anything short of the quarter finals as they'd risk being associated wioth another failure.
    Self centred, incompetent cowards.
    Which failure will be the straw that breaks the coalitions backs?

  • rate this

    Comment number 296.

    Whereas masses are gathering all over the country to listen you being “caustic and facetious”, right? I think I am the only one who made the mistake of taking you seriously enough and waste a nanosecond of my life to respond to you. Oh well. I suspect being “caustic and facetious” is actually the best you can do.

  • rate this

    Comment number 295.

    Personally the role should be for the referee or manager of a team to both stop the game or if the ref is being deliberately ignorant of events, take the team of the park, when sectarian or racist chanting happens. Football is a sport I love it but I totally disagree with people like Bob shankely who said its a matter of life and death. IT IS NOT. IT IS A SPORT. THERE ARE MORE IMPORTANT THINGS.

  • rate this

    Comment number 294.

    I hope our politicians who support gay marriage and gay rights will stand by their principles when the soccer team plays in the world cup in Qatar. Whoops, sorry, that is one of the countries which adhere to M principles, for which criticism indicates a serious medical condition described as a phobia.

  • Comment number 293.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 292.

    Jesse the snob Pinkman
    To be absolutely honest I do not see "debates" here, I see left wing activists and people with nothing sensible to do with their time on here. My comments are usually caustic and facetious because of this. Believe me you are wasting your time because NO ONE is listening to you!

  • rate this

    Comment number 291.

    I think she should be released from prison on condition that she changes her hair style. Meanwhile could Hague try to enforce some form of regime change in the Ukraine? It worked in Libya where they are now trying to decide whether PR or a first past the post method of electing representatives is best.

  • Comment number 290.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 289.

    274. ColadadelCid

    Ukraine was a much smaller region (never a state) - the very name means borderland !
    Stalin chopped Russia to create it adding lands north/east
    Ukrainian famine itself killed 2 million - ethnically a lot of them were Russians.

    Today the catholic west is a backwater. Ukraine is based on the work of the orthodox east.

    Russian is the language of some 35 to 40% of the population.

  • rate this

    Comment number 288.

    And they are absolutely right to do so.

    To be truthful with all the endemic racism with Ukraine and Poland, we should simply withdraw, and so should other teams.

    Then where would UEFA be and the competition.

    There is no place in Football or a Modern world for Racism!

  • rate this

    Comment number 287.

    282.Toxic Tel
    "Let me guess BP dnate to the Tory party."

    The real problem is why do any companies donate to political parties?

    The only reason can be that it is in their £ interests.
    This means there must be a return on their investment if only MPs had their price tag on show we could club together and buy 1 or 2 for the country - it'd make a change!

  • rate this

    Comment number 286.

    I'm guessing that tickets were reserves for the Tories, first class travel plans put in place, top hotels reserved and other 'extras' lined up. Now they are not going, I am happy top take 2 places and report back to Dave and let him know what happens.

    Please send all info asap to this sports lover who was priced out of the Euros and Olympics.


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