We’re just over a month away from the start of Euro 2012. Preliminary squad’s are beginning to take shape and Roy Hodgson remains ‘bulletproof.’ The machinations have begun – Andy Carroll as England’s starting number nine?
While we wait for the matches to begin news involving Europe’s footballing powers and the preparations in Ukraine and Poland – our hosts – garner most of the headlines. And usually, when international tournaments draw near we get a third source: politics. This weekend, facets of all three tools of incitement merged to form our first quasi hot button issue for this year’s tournament.
The key players:
European Football Power: Germany – represented by Captain Phillip Lahm and manager Joachim Low.
Host nation: Group D’s Ukraine.
Political issue: The treatment of former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko.
Background: Last week, officials from the European Union announced they would boycott all Euro 2012 matches played in Ukraine. The protest was launched after Yulia Tymoshenko, a former Ukrainian Prime Minister that was sent to prison for seven years – charges included illegally selling gas to Russia amongst other things – began a hunger strike on April 20th after an alleged beating by three guards.Soon after, Tymoshenko’s supporters posted images of the former Prime Minister that showed bruises on her stomach.
The proposed boycott has left Ukrainian officials fuming. The Foreign Ministry stated the European Union’s efforts were a “destructive attempt to politicize sporting events, which since ancient times have played a paramount role in improving understanding and agreement between nations.”
It’s one thing for commissioners and officials from the European Union to boycott the Ukrainian portion of Euro 2012. Frankly, I and many others don’t know who these people are. What should worry organizers in Kiev is criticism from individuals Football fans know and respect. Insert German National team captain Phillip Lahm.
“I cannot see my own concepts of democracy, fundamental rights, human rights, or of questions like personal and press freedom, reflected in the current political situation in Ukraine,” Lahm told Spiegel. “When I see how the regime is treating Yulia Tymoshenko, then that has nothing to do with my understanding of democracy.”
In typical fashion, both Fifa and Uefa have sought to distance themselves from the political controversy. Lahm has challenged their position of neutrality:
“Football has become too large to remain untainted by such things. When I read the initial reports about Tymoshenko’s poor health, I already suspected the direction things might go.”
Lahm will not skip Euro 2012 and it would be foolish to ask him to do so. It is, however, refreshing to see a player of his caliber say something in the public forum that doesn’t involve baseless transfer speculation or denials of a dalliance with an escort.
The German skipper is not calling for a boycott, but he is asking questions that many in the game refuse to address. Lahm’s Manager, Joachim Loew, has voiced his support for Tymoshenko’s humane treatment but refused to support the boycott.
Football – more than any other sport – has always been intertwined with politics. For the most part their integration produces awful results – The Belgrade/Zagreb riot in 1990 and more recently, the 74 deaths at a game in Port Said, Egypt come to mind. Clearly, Lahm’s outspokenness on this issue does not fall into that category. What his comments may do is start a conversation within the sport that should be had.
Fifa and Uefa have shown a paucity of desire when it comes to challenging human rights abuses committed by its members. Perhaps we should stop wasting our time on the Blatters’ of the world and start relying on the Lahms’.