Inside Lines: Ukrainian stars plead with Government not to boycott Euro 2012
The Government are considering whether to join a political boycott of the upcoming European football championship in protest at Ukraine's human-rights record.
A number of nations, including defending champions Spain, Germany and Austria, have said they will not be sending ministers to Ukraine as a gesture of solidarity with the jailed former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko, who has been on a hunger strike in Karkhiv, one of the Euro 2012 venues.
Britain's Sports and Olympics Minister, Hugh Robertson, and his boss, the Culture Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, are scheduled to attend some of England's matches in Donesk and Kiev as well as the Kiev final.
The situation in Ukraine is causing widespread concern, as are allegations of rampant racism among football fans there which has caused the relatives of several black players in the England squad to cancel arrangements to travel to the games.
Robertson is aware of such sensitivities, and this month the DCMS abandoned a proposed visit by him and the 2012 Locog deputy chair, Sir Keith Mills, to Egypt on behalf of the International Inspiration Foundation because of civil unrest in Cairo. However, Ukraine's two biggest sports figures last week pleaded with foreign politicians not to snub the championships.
The former pole vault star Sergei Bubka said: "This would be senseless and serve no purpose." And the WBC world heavyweight champion Vitali Klitschko, who himself heads an anti-government political party in Ukraine, told me on a visit to London: "Such a protest will only hurt the people of Ukraine. All is not well in my homeland, where the government is corrupt, but our nation should not be robbed of a great sporting moment. Rather than boycotting, a better tactic would be for European VIPs to sit in the crowd with ordinary citizens and show their solidarity."
Just as long as big Vitali and brother Wladimir are seated alongside them as minders.
Big Mac makes it special
On the subject of political football, here's a more uplifting tale. Last week the former Southampton manager and England coach Lawrie McMenemy was back in the dug-out at Wembley again, taking charge of the UK Parliamentary football team. They played a Special Olympics team from the Leyton Orient Advanced Soccer School.
Afterwards the politicos donated £15,000 to the charity Unified Football, which works to break down the social barriers between adults and children with intellectual disabilities and those without by creating mixed football teams.
McMenemy, who is also president of the Special Olympics, said: "Unified Football helps the public overcome prejudices about people who are different and raises awareness not only about their disabilities, but their abilities."
Unlike the Paralympics, the Special Olympics receive no Government or Lottery funding for their programme of sports training and competition. Shouldn't Britain's estimated 1.2 million with learning difficulties also be sharing in 2012's legacy?
Haye told not to get shirty
David Haye has relaunched his book Making Haye in paperback to coincide with his punch-up against Dereck Chisora. Just as well he didn't appear before the British Boxing Board of Control after that Munich madness, as they would have thrown it at him.
But the Hayemaker has suffered one ban – I hear he's been told not to wear his Millwall shirt when he enters the ring at West Ham on 1 July lest it riles the fans.
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