• The - 70,000-capacity Olympiysky stadium in Kiev, Yanukovych's Euro2012 showpiece - was expected to see him watch games alongside EU leaders (Photo: EUobserver.com)

EU commissioner first to boycott Ukraine football games

30.04.12 @ 09:29

  1. By Andrew Rettman
  2. Andrew email

BRUSSELS - EU justice commissioner Vivianne Reding is to boycott the Euro2012 football championships in Ukraine for political reasons, amid reports the German Chancellor might do the same.

Reding spokeswoman Mina Andreeva told EUobserver on Monday (30 April) the commissioner will skip the games despite being personally invited by Michel Platini, the head of the European football association, Uefa.

"She's not going. First of all, her agenda does not permit this. But also she is quite concerned about the situation in Ukraine and in particular by the situation with Yulia Tymoshenko," Andreeva noted, referring to Ukraine's former prime minister, currently on hunger strike in protest over allegedly being beaten in her jail cell 10 days ago.

Reding's decision comes amid reports by Germany's Der Spiegel magazine that Chancellor Angela Merkel might also stay away.

Her spokesman Steffen Seibert declined to confirm the news. But he told press on Friday: "Obviously further developments in Ukraine and the Tymoshenko case would play a role in [her] decision."

Two of Merkel's ministers - environment chief Norbert Roettgen and interior minister Hans-Peter Friedrich, in charge of sports - have openly threatened not to go. "Visits by ministers or prime ministers are beyond question under the current circumstances," Roettgen told the mass-selling Bild newspaper on Monday.

Two German sporting figures - Uli Hoeness, the manager of Bayern Munich football club, and Hans-Joachim Watzke, the manager of the Borussia Dortmund club - also endorsed a boycott. "I have faith in the players that they are intelligent enough to have an opinion about this and I would have respect for every player who took a public stance on this," Hoeness told Der Spiegel.

Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych has invested $9 billion in new stadiums, airport terminals and fast trains for the games in June and July to create a feel-good factor ahead of parliamentary elections in autumn.

In a sign of just how much a snub might hurt, Markiyan Lubkivskyi, Ukraine's man in charge of preparing the event, has said Euro2012 is the president's baby. "He controls all the procedures. It's his project. When I meet him on delegations to stadiums, the questions he asks - he has a deep knowledge of all the details," Lubkivskyi told this website in Kiev in December.

The Reding boycott comes after the Presidents of Austria, the Czech Republic and Germany earlier this month said they will not go to a summit of central European leaders in Ukraine in May.

Sports boycotts are rare events by EU standards. VIPs in recent weeks declined to say whether Belarus is fit to host the world hockey championships or whether Bahrain should host the Formula 1 championship.

Just nine EU leaders - from France, Slovakia, Latvia, Cyprus, Romania, Bulgaria, the Netherlands, Finland and Luxembourg - went to the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics in 2008, however.

"The presence of politicians at the Olympic inauguration seems inappropriate," Polish leader Donald Tusk, who is co-hosting Euro2012 together with Ukraine, said at the time.