BERLIN: German sports leaders Theo Zwanziger and Thomas Bach are hoping to persuade Chancellor Angela Merkel against a proposal to give Euro 2012 in Poland and Ukraine a miss writes KEIR RADNEDGE.
Zwanziger is the recently-retired president of the German football federation president and a member of the FIFA executive while Bach is president of the German Olympic sports federation and a vice-president of the International Olympic Committee.
Questions have arisen over whether European Union leaders should make the usual political courtesy call on the event because of the recent turn of events in Ukraine.
Merkel has said she could cancel her visit to Ukraine if jailed former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko is not released by then.
Tymoshenko has been on hunger strike for two weeks and concern over the conditions in which she is being held has raised widespread EU concern. That was exacerbated by a weekend bomb outrage in the Ukrainian city of Dnepropetrovsk which injured 27 people.
A domestic political rival of President Victor Yanukovich, Tymoshenko was jailed last year for misuse of her prime ministerial powers over an energy deal with neighbouring Russia.
A protest by supporters at her sentence was staged in Kyiv when UEFA delegates were in the Ukraine capital last December for the Euro 2012 finals draw.
Jose Manuel Barroso, president of the European Commission, and Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding have both refused to commit to attending the Opening Match even though this is in Poland and not Ukraine.
Merkel’s absence, however, would have greatest significance because Germany has long offered the greatest encouragement to Ukraine’s ambition for eventual EU membership.
However Zwanziger and Bach have united in suggesting that the value of sport as a ‘weapon’ is only to bring peoples together and facilitate international understanding.
Zwanziger said: “Boycotting a sports event is not an action which has ever achieved anything. It’s just playing to the gallery.”
However he did consider it perfectly proper if officials and even players used the opportunity of the finals to raise concerns about the political turmoil in Ukraine.
Bach said: “Boycotting major sports events has proved to be unsuccessful and senseless in the past. After the boycott of the 1980 Moscow Olympics, not a single Russian soldier withdrew from Afghanistan. Sport is neutral territory. That is the only way it can be a force for unity and the building of bridges rather than walls.”
Like Zwanziger, however, Bach saw no value in keeping silent over contentious issues.
He said: “If we stand for the rule of law and democracy then we should represent those concepts, no matter where we are. I would also hope for a clear acknowledgment of that from leading sports officials.
“But it should also be acknowledged that we would not be having this public debate about political and human rights conditions in the host country were it not for the European Championship taking place there. Sport offers a magnificent communications platform.”
Polish sports officials and politicians have refused to comment on the issue for fear of upsetting both their co-hosts and the organizing European federation, UEFA.
Poland play Greece in Warsaw in the Opening Match on June 8 with the first match in Ukraine following the next day between Holland and Denmark in Kharkov where Tymoshenko is being held in jail.
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