Ukraine Soccer Head Likens Political Boycotts to Cold War Era

The head of Ukraine’s soccer federation said foreign governments’ boycotts of his country during the European Championship go against the spirit of sport.

The U.K. yesterday joined action by France, Belgium, the Netherlands and European Union commissioners in saying its ministers won’t attend games in Ukraine because of human-rights concerns. The nation is co-hosting the tournament with Poland.

The EU has called for opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko to be freed from prison. She was jailed for seven years over a gas accord she signed with Russia while prime minister in 2009.

Speaking yesterday before the U.K. announcement, soccer federation president Hryhoriy Surkis likened the situation to the Cold War era when the U.S. led other nations in boycotting the 1980 Olympic Games in Moscow. The Soviet Union and some allies took similar action four years later when the games were hosted in Los Angeles.

“Politicians should not do anything that separates people,” Surkis said in an interview. “I think there are enough instruments in our global new world to avoid boycotts and pressure. Sport and politics should be divided into different spheres.”

For now, the U.K. boycott covers the group stage, the opening phase of the 16-nation tournament. England plays all three of its group matches in Ukraine, starting against France in Donetsk on June 11. It then meets Sweden in Kiev before returning to Donetsk to play Ukraine.

‘Under Review’

“The government fully supports England’s participation in Euro 2012,” the U.K. Foreign Office said in an e-mailed statement today. “No ministers will be attending group games at Euro 2012. We are 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.”

Four matches in the eight-team knockout stage, including the July 1 final, will be played in Ukraine. The Olympic Games start in London on July 27.

European soccer’s governing body has faced increasing questions about the decision to award Ukraine hosting rights to the competition, the most watched in sports after soccer’s World Cup and the summer Olympics.

“It was very much welcomed by all the political leaders when we started out four or five years ago,” David Taylor, chief executive officer of the governing body’s commercial arm, UEFA Events SA, said in an interview today. “If one month before the tournament there are issues and some political leaders don’t want to come, well, of course they’re free to choose.”

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