Inside Story
Should sport and politics mix?
We ask if calls for a boycott of Euro 2012 in protest at the treatment of Ukraine's jailed former PM are justified.
Last Modified: 04 May 2012 12:25

The biggest sporting event in the history of Ukraine - co-hosted with Poland - is under threat.

"This threat of boycott by politicians or teams is the reason we're having this conversation about human rights issues in the Ukraine. I think Angela Merkel has already achieved what she wanted to achieve."

- Mehrdad Masoudi, a former FIFA press officer

The imprisonment of Yulia Tymoshenko, the former Ukrainian prime minister, has led to growing calls for boycotts of the Euro 2012 football championship in June.

European politicians are calling for a boycott in response to Tymoshenko's seven-year prison sentence, as well as to how she is being treated in jail.

Last week, pictures of Tymoshenko showed what appeared to be bruises and grazes on her stomach and arm.

Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, has said she would not attend any games played in Ukraine unless the human rights situation under Viktor Yanukovych, the current president, improves.

"There are different sorts of boycotts … those where just politicians stay away from ceremonial occasions and more pernicious ones where politicians involve the sportsmen and women."

- Keir Radnedge, a veteran football journalist

Austria and the Netherlands are also boycotting the games, and several European leaders have cancelled visits to Ukraine.

Ukraine has invested $9bn in new stadiums and transportation facilities for the games. Its government is accusing Germany of reviving what is being called the methods of the Cold War.

Should sport be used as a tool to apply political pressure? Can this kind of pressure achieve results?

Joining presenter Jane Dutton on Inside Story are guests: Keir Radnedge, a veteran football journalist; Mehrdad Masoudi, a former FIFA press officer during the France 1998 World Cup; and David Mepham, the UK director of Human Rights Watch.

'What we do do and have done unashamedly ... is to use the media profile, the media spotlight to really highlight and expose the serious human rights abuses. That's essential and is a very important way to pressure governments to improve their act."

David Mepham, the UK director of Human Rights Watch

Past boycotts of world sporting events:

  • A large scale boycott took place in South Africa during the peak of apartheid during the 1970s. The country had been prevented from taking part in a number of international sporting events. In 1968, the UN general assembly boycotted all of the South African sports bodies that practiced apartheid.
  • In 1980, 62 countries, including the US, West Germany and Japan, refused to attend the Moscow Olympics in protest over the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.
  • Four years later, in 1984, Russia and its communist East European allies retaliated by boycotting the Los Angeles Summer Olympics.
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