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EDITORIAL: No neutrality for senior politicians

Political boycotts of sport are not the way forward.

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Politicians can never take time off from politics when they appear in public.

As a result, all of the heads of government and ministers who go to the European Football Championships next month will be directly entering the debate on the human rights situation in Ukraine – where the final is to be played in the capital Kiev.

There is no neutral ground for senior politicians. And certainly not in countries with such major democratic and constitutional problems as is unfortunately the case in Ukraine.

The imprisonment and treatment of former Prime Minister Yulia Timoshenko, who led the Orange Revolution, is a stain on the European map.

At first glance therefore, it seems understandable that the German Chancellor Angela Merkel and EU Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso are to boycott the finals, at least as long as Julia Timoshenko is locked away and brutally abused.

It is a credit to the European leaders that they have put the scandal on the agenda. But a boycott is not the way forward. Not for the European Championships in Ukraine.

It is only by being there and using the soccer spotlight to also draw attention to the human rights situation, that Western European politicians can make a difference in a neighbouring country. No-one listens to silent politicians who stay away.

The opposition in Ukraine needs people to come and raise their voices.

Each politician and football fan travelling to Ukraine must make up their own minds as to how to respond to the tense political framework in which the sport is being played. The host country will always try to use the event to its own advantage.

Danish roligans could take advice from the former Foreign Minister Uffe Ellemann-Jensen (Lib): “How refreshing it would be since you are over there to see the Danish clapping hats equipped with a blonde braid, perhaps with an orange bow, “ as he says in an amusing call for a show of sympathy.

If politicians take part as official representatives, a requirement must be that they call attention to, and criticise everything that the regime is trying to cover up.

Danish politicians must not legitimise the abuse of Yulia Timoshenko – certainly not without being met with harsh criticism at home.

Active participation and critical dialogue is best. But political boycotts can be relevant and should be assessed on an individual basis. The World Soccer Championships in Qatar in 2022 is an obvious candidate if the situation there does not improve. The only thing that is completely unacceptable is cowardly silence and naïve expressions that international sport is not high-level politics.

The Orange Revolution in Ukraine deserves red and white support.

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