O Sport, You are Peace?

Posted on 05. June 2012

by Ulyana Vynyarchuck

ulyana-vynyarchuck-modified“Wars break out because nations misunderstand each other. We shall not have peace until the prejudices which now separate the different races shall have been outlived. To attain this end, what better means than to bring the youth of all countries periodically together for amicable trial of muscular strength and agility? ” Coubertin 

As the European Football Championships approach, the dilemma of whether or not to attend the event is getting ever more pressing. For the most part it concerns the high profile European politicians, to whom the case of the imprisoned former Ukrainian Prime Minister Tymoshenko is what football, both literally and figuratively, is to the general public (everybody seems to be an expert, or at least believes he or she is one). There is no denying the fact that the trial against Tymoshenko was an example of brutal politically motivated justice. But it’s not just the publicity the case gets but the negative information campaigns against my country that follow it are what I find most striking. All of a sudden in terms of boycott appeals and condemnations, Ukraine seems to have joined the company of such media favourites as Syria, Iran and Belarus. Ironically, all the political turmoil is taking place shortly before the Football Championships, which in fact devaluates the costs and efforts the UEFA and our government invested into the promotion of the sporting event and the country as a whole.

According to Correo Diplomatico, the initiative to boycott the Championships comes from Germany and its Head of State Mrs.Angela Merkel, who has already warned the government in Kyiv that she is not coming to the games unless Mrs. Tymoshenko is set free and her case reconsidered properly.  The same recommendation goes to her Ministers.

Besides Germany such countries as Czech Republic, Austria, Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium and Croatia also joined the boycott. Spain’s Minister of Foreign Affairs José Manuel García Margallo, has recently admitted that his country might follow the example of those mentioned above. His Austrian peer Mr. Michael Spindelegger communicated that the government of Austria decided to show solidarity with Tymoshenko and to withhold from attending the football tournament.   The Head of Belgian Diplomatic Service Didier Reynders has likewise reassured that he would not attend the Championships because of the ways the leader of the Orange revolution was being treated in detention.  The President of Croatia has taken up a similar decision and even the newly appointed Head of the Russian Government Dmitriy Medvedev referred to how Tymoshenko is treated in prison as absolutely unacceptable1.

On the other hand, the President of Poland Bronislaw Komorowski warned against the countries of Western Europe from boycotting the Championships; which from his perspective in its final result was going to increase the distance between the EU and Ukraine.  The Polish media seem to demonstrate the same vision. The conservative newspaper “Rzeczpospolita” for example assumes that “Ukraine becomes the victim of politicians who are unwilling to see it as a part of the European Union”.  The international human rights organization Amnesty International also sees no need for a sports boycott of the EURO 2012 and thus it does not call for one.  This kind of attitude is shared by the German Olympic Sports Union (DOSB). “It is better to go there and hold a few meetings with the opposition and pay a visit to Yulia Tymoshenko. This will cause greater troubles to the authorities than simple refusal to participate in the event” – considers the Director General of the DOSB Michael Vesper.

It is not the first time in the modern history of sports that we are evidencing the similar debates. In the run-up for the summer Olympics in Berlin in 1936 the situation was tense as well, reminds the Secretary General of the Amnesty International, Wolfgang Grenz. However, the debates took place within one country – the US.  Besides, it has never gone beyond the threats and at the end of the day, the US sent its sportsmen to the German capital.

However in 1956 things went the other way, when several countries boycotted the Olympic Games in the Australian Melbourne. In fact these protests were related to issues that had nothing to do with Australia itself. Spain and Switzerland refused to participate in the Olympics because of the suppression of public protests in Hungary.  Egypt, Cambodia, Lebanon and Iraq didn’t come to Melbourne in a protest against the invasion of the Israeli army into the Sinai Peninsula.

A boycott on a greater scale affected Southern African Republic in the period of apartheid enforcement policy in the 1970s – The SAR was then excluded from participation in a number of major sporting events. And these measures proved efficient.  “There are documented statements by the SAR politicians, proving that sports boycott had adversely more affected the image of the country and the internal political situation,  than its economic wellbeing” – according to the professor of the Higher Sports School in Cologne Jürgen Mittag, underlined in an interview for Deutsche Welle.

The next occasion to mess up sports with politics occurred when the Soviet army entered Afghanistan in 1979.  To display their protest against the activities of Kremlin more than 60 states including the US and West Germany refused to take part in the 1980 Olympics in Moscow.  However some years later the Soviet Union had a chance for revenge: it refused together with its 13 “friends” of the so-called social block to participate in the Olympics that took place in 1984 in Los Angeles 2.

All of the mentioned  above cases prove sport  to be a rather weak instrument of political pressure, which poses more questions than answers in the eyes of international community, taking  for instance, the remarks about the human rights violations in China and Beijing Olympics, as well as the suppression of Russian opposition and Sochi Olympics. Keeping that in mind the European Parliament resolution on Ukraine as of May 24 never mentions the wordboycott.  Instead: “While expressing its hope for the success of the European Football Championship 2012 in Poland and Ukraine, [the resolution] calls on European politicians who wish to attend Euro 2012 matches in Ukraine to make their awareness of the political situation in the country publicly clear and to seek opportunities to visit political detainees in prison, or to attend in their private capacity and not as VIPs” 3.

“This is not a boycott. And I hope that EURO 2012 will be a massive success” – Says Stefan Fuele, EU Enlargement Commissioner 4. So do we, the Ukrainians. In the meantime we keep making jokes borrowed from media that the President of Ukraine, Mr. Yanukovich would be the twelfth head of the state who would refuse to attend the matches.

Footnotes

  1. “Correo Diplomático”, Europa presiona a Ucrania por la suerte de Timoshenko: www.correodiplomatico.com/2012/05/15/europa-presiona-a-ucrania-por-la-suerte-de-timoshenko
  2. “Deutsche Welle”, http://www.dw.de/dw/article/0,,15920134,00.html
  3. European Parliament resolution of 24 May 2012 on Ukraine (2012/2658(RSP)), http://www.europarl.europa.eu/sides/getDoc.do?pubRef=-//EP//TEXT+TA+P7-TA-2012-0221+0+DOC+XML+V0//EN
  4. http://www.pravda.com.ua/news/2012/05/22/6965029/