Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Euro 2012 May Face Political Crisis Over Ukraine Mess

Euro 2012 is facing a potential diplomatic crisis because of the continued jailing of opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko by the government of Ukrainian President Victor Yanukovich. Tymoshenko is serving a seven year prison term handed down last October for what most observers believe are trumped-up charges.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said April 29 that she and her cabinet would not be attending any matches in Ukraine. Euro 2012 is co-hosted by Poland, and there are no concerns with that country's political climate with regard to hosting the tournament.

The next day, it was announced that Jose Manuel Barroso, president of the European commission, and the commissioner for justice, Viviane Reding, would not be traveling to Ukraine. There were other politically motivated cancellations of travel plans, and likely more to come.

Politics and Sport

The fiasco looks like it could deepen, and it draws into question the mixing of politics and sport. The two have been entwined together in the past, of course. As for Merkel, she at least deserves credit for being consistent. She was the first world leader to announce she would be skipping the opening ceremonies of the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.

When a country with a potentially embarrassing political situation hosts a major sporting event, the attention of the world can be focused on the plight, if even for a fleeting time. There is some good that pressure can bring, but it's a complicated affair.

I think the boycott of the 1980 Moscow Olympics initiated by the United States and the retaliatory boycott of the 1984 Los Angeles Games led by the Soviet Union were both big mistakes that denied athletes the chance to compete in something very special.

If political leaders use their clout to publicly shame those who deserve it, that's one thing, but the cancelling or boycotting the actual sporting events is quite another. The Euro 2012 events should go forward, and not be moved over the jailing of Tymoshenko. That said, politicians should do all they can to influence the Ukrainian government.

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