Tim Walker: When sport can shame politicians

Tales From The Water Cooler: A boycott only carries weight when it involves sacrifice; saying you might turn up if things get interesting is no boycott at all

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Is this history's lamest boycott? In protest at the "selective justice" inflicted on Ukrainian opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko, the UK government has declared that no ministers will attend the opening matches of England's Euro 2012 campaign in the former Soviet republic. But if the lads get far past the group stages, as few expect, the ministers may reconsider.

A boycott only carries weight when it involves sacrifice; saying you might turn up if things get interesting is no boycott at all.

Ukraine's Ambassador in London responded by claiming "sport and politics do not mix". Perhaps he has in mind that image of George Osborne at the Champions League Final – as opposed to, say, the sporting boycott of apartheid-era South Africa, or Jesse Owens' four golds at the Berlin Olympics. Politicians talking sport, and sportspeople talking politics, tend to be embarrassing sights: think the PM punching the air at the G8, or Sebastian Vettel dismissing anti-government protests on the streets beyond the Bahrain Grand Prix.

Yet without that morally compromised sporting event, would so many people still be aware of the turmoil in that tiny Gulf kingdom? When the Saudi Arabian team arrives in London for the Olympics next month, with not a single female athlete, won't it shed light on that nation's shameless treatment of women?

As for Ukraine, a lot of us now know the country has a racism problem, and that Ms Tymoshenko has been jailed for seven years after an alleged show trial. When politics and sport mix, politics can sour the sport. But the sport can shame the politicians, too, and that makes it all the more valuable.

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