It’s interesting that the British ministers boycotting the group stages of Euro 2012 have chosen to take a stance against Ukraine’s human rights record by highlighting the case of jailed opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko. The boycott is a reaction to the “selective justice” being meted out to the former prime minister, who also claims she has been beaten up in prison.
Interesting because while her case is an important one - it is widely thought that the charges of abuse of office brought against her after she lost the 2010 general election were politically motivated to remove her from her role as thorn in the side of pro-Russian current PM Viktor Yanukovych - there are other human rights issues in need of serious attention in the two countries where the tournament is being held.
You would have to have been living in a bunker for the last few weeks to miss the pre-Euro 2012 media coverage of human rights abuses showing that police torture, racism and homophobia are widespread in Ukraine and Poland.
Yesterday the Times ran a feature examining the shameful record on gay rights of Ukraine and Poland (£). A recent BBC Panorama about racism in football in the two countries showed white fans performing Nazi salutes and beating up a group of Asian supporters in the stands, as well as police brutality. Today, the first day of the tournament, the Mail and others reported that Polish fans have subjected Dutch players to monkey chants during training in Krakow.
Britain’s politicians are following in the footsteps of German ministers and European officials in their boycott. German chancellor Angela Merkel announced none of her cabinet will attend games in Ukraine unless the country improves its human rights record. The president of the European Commission, José Manuel Barroso, and EU commissioner for justice, Viviane Reding have also said they will stay away.
By focusing on Yulia Tymoshenko, European politicians have helped to put human rights abuses in Ukraine in the spotlight, but why stop there? The danger is that by focusing on this case – and don’t forget questions remain over claims by her supporters that she has been beaten up in prison - European leaders overlook the abuses suffered by many ordinary Ukrainians each year at the hands of their police. It's worth noting that no society is free from racism or homophobia. However, by publicly demanding protection for the thousands on the receiving end of human rights abuses each year, European leaders could help bring an end to the racism, homophobia and police brutality in Ukraine and Poland that have no place in society, let alone football.
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