Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on

Putin criticizes Euro 2012 boycott calls

By James Montague, CNN
May 4, 2012 -- Updated 1246 GMT (2046 HKT)
Russian prime minister Vladimir Putin has spoken out against European leaders' boycott of Ukraine's Euro 2012 matches, saying sport and politics should not mix. Russian prime minister Vladimir Putin has spoken out against European leaders' boycott of Ukraine's Euro 2012 matches, saying sport and politics should not mix.
Putin's policy
Jailed former leader
Family support
Political fallout
Red alert
On guard
  • Russian prime minister Vladimir Putin criticizes political boycott of Euros
  • Says sport and politics shouldn't be mixed
  • EU leaders boycotting event over jailing of former Ukrainian PM
  • Supporters say charges politically motivated by current president

(CNN) -- Russian premier Vladimir Putin has criticized plans by European leaders to boycott next month's Euro 2012 football finals due to the treatment by Ukrainian authorities of former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko.

German chancellor Angela Merkel has raised her concerns at Tymoshenko's treatment, while European Union president Herman Van Rompuy, European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso and the governments of Austria and Belgium have all said they will not be attending any matches in Ukraine in protest.

But Putin has waded into the row, telling journalists in Russia that sport and politics should be kept separate.

"In absolutely every case, you can't mix politics, business and other issues with sport," Putin told Russian news agency Novosti.

"I stick to the principle professed and supported by the International Olympic Committee -- sport is outside politics."

Tymoshenko claims beatings in jail
Daughter on Tymoshenko's jail ordeal
Former Ukrainian PM found guilty

Putin's statement echoes the sentiments of Formula One chief Bernie Ecclestone, who defended the elite motorsport's decision to race in Bahrain last month despite widespread concerns over human rights issues.

Tymoshenko, the heroine of the Orange Revolution that swept the country in 2004 and 2005, has been in prison since last October for alleged abuse of office.

Her supporters claim that the charges were politically motivated -- drummed up by current president Viktor Yanukovych, who beat Tymoshenko in Ukraine's 2010 presidential election. It was alleged voter fraud by supporters of Yanukovych during the 2004 presidential elections that originally sparked the revolution.

Her party was expected to be a formidable foe in next October's parliamentary elections.

Last week pictures of Tymoshenko released by her family appeared to show bruises she claims came from a beating by a prison guard. She has since gone on hunger strike in a bid to secure medical treatment she says she is being denied.

Taking place a little over a month before the Euro 2012 opening ceremony in Poland, which is co-hosting the tournament, the row is just one of several controversies that have threatened to overshadow what the Ukrainian government had hoped would be a showcase event for the country.

Despite huge investment in Ukraine's aging transport infrastructure, the country has struggled in its preparations. Stadium delays had initially put Ukraine's hosting of the tournament in jeopardy, but now new problems have emerged.

Hotel prices during the tournament have risen so sharply due to profiteering that Michel Platini, head of European football's governing body UEFA, was unusually critical when visiting Ukraine last month for the opening of a new airport terminal.

"It's annoying to have made a lot of investment and then say to people that they can't come because there are bandits and crooks who want to make a lot of money during this Euro," he told the assembled press in Lviv.

You can't mix politics, business and other issues with sport
Vladimir Putin

Security concerns were raised when multiple bombs exploded in the city of Dnipropetrovsk, close to Donetsk where the England team will be playing some of its matches. More than 20 people were injured in the blasts. The authorities have so far blamed criminal gangs rather than terrorists for the attack.

And earlier this week Amnesty international warned football fans traveling to Ukraine that they will face a "criminal" police force mired in so many abuse scandals that its behavior threatens to ruin the showpiece tournament.

The Amnesty International report "Ukraine: Euro 2012 jeopardized by criminal police force" details how security forces have been implicated in numerous cases of torture and extortion in cities due to host matches.

According to the report, one recent case in the eastern city of Lviv -- where Germany, Portugal and Denmark will play -- details how two men were beaten, robbed and then imprisoned by six police officers after a disagreement in a bar.

Prosecutors originally refused to open a criminal case until CCTV footage emerged of the incident after one of the men's lawyers gave an interview to a local TV station.

"The Ukrainian government must take action now to stop widespread police criminality," said John Dalhuisen, Amnesty International's director for Europe and Central Asia.

"Failure to do so will encourage them to continue acting as a law unto themselves and put Euro 2012 fans in danger from a force that is out of control."

There are bandits and crooks who want to make a lot of money during this Euro
UEFA chief Michel Platini

The Ukrainian foreign ministry responded to the avalanche of negative press stories this week in bellicose terms.

"The Foreign Affairs Ministry considers destructive the attempts to politicize sporting events, which have played an important role in the process of establishment of intergovernmental mutual understanding and unity since the earliest times," it said in a statement posted on the website of the Ukrainian News Agency.

"The calls to boycott the championship would in practice amount to undermining the image of a grand sports event and damage to the interests of millions of ordinary Ukrainians that vote for various political parties or are not interested in politics at all."

Poland is split on the controversy, with opposition leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski calling for a boycott of the event and suggesting that matches be moved to Warsaw. But president Bronislaw Komorowski dismissed those calls as "inappropriate."

Meanwhile Merkel, a keen football fan whose comments earlier this week on the fate of Yulia Tymoshenko sparked the media furor, says that she will wait until the very last minute to decide whether to attend the tournament.

"I always decide on such things at short notice," she told Koelner Stadt Anzeiger, a regional newspaper in Germany..

Part of complete coverage on
June 29, 2012 -- Updated 2226 GMT (0626 HKT)
Sunday's Euro 2012 final in Kiev pits holders Spain against Italy, between them the winners of the last two World Cups.
August 22, 2013 -- Updated 1426 GMT (2226 HKT)
Euro 2012: Images from 13th European Championships being held in Poland and Ukraine.
June 29, 2012 -- Updated 1447 GMT (2247 HKT)
Can English football reinvent its "warrior" style to emulate the success of freeflowing football nations such as Spain and Germany?
June 22, 2012 -- Updated 1202 GMT (2002 HKT)
Germany Greece
The Germany-Greece quarterfinal at Euro 2012 is just one example of when political and sporting lines become blurred.
June 20, 2012 -- Updated 1601 GMT (0001 HKT)
CNN's panel of football experts look at the Euro 2012 contenders ahead of the quarterfinal stage.
With Euro 2012's group stage now over, CNN's Pedro Pinto picks out his highlights of the action in Poland and Ukraine.
June 19, 2012 -- Updated 1619 GMT (0019 HKT)
Nicklas Bendtner could be in trouble for his choice of underwear.
UEFA's decision to fine Nicklas Bendtner for revealing a sponsor's name on his underpants during Euro 2012 may have opened a can of worms.
CNN's Alex Thomas wonders how such an exciting football team as Spain could become, as heretical as it may seem to say... boring.
June 14, 2012 -- Updated 1543 GMT (2343 HKT)
Fighting in the streets of Warsaw during the opening week of Euro 2012 is a stark reminder that football's "disease" has not been cured.
CNN's Amanda Davies argues that footballers are picked for their sporting ability, not because they can do justice to their national song.
June 8, 2012 -- Updated 1346 GMT (2146 HKT)
Poland kicked off Euro 2012 as one of the underdogs. It is a far cry from the days when the nation was one of the most feared teams in world soccer.
June 7, 2012 -- Updated 1759 GMT (0159 HKT)
Euro 2012: Guess the tattoos
Euro 2012 is almost upon us and Europe's finest footballers will be marked men -- in more ways than one.
June 7, 2012 -- Updated 1632 GMT (0032 HKT)
CNN World Sport looks at the challenges that teams and host countries Poland and Ukraine faced to get to the Euro 2012 cup.
June 7, 2012 -- Updated 1551 GMT (2351 HKT)
As national teams arrive in Poland and Ukraine, will the tournament be a football success or overshadowed by racism?
June 7, 2012 -- Updated 1917 GMT (0317 HKT)
A picture taken at Donetsk airport on June 6, 2012, shows flags reading Euro 2012 logo two days ahead of the Euro 2012 football championships opening in Warsaw. France will play its first match on June 11 against England.
If the pre-vote predictions had been accurate, football heavyweights Italy would be preparing to host the 2012 European Championship.
CNN's Pedro Pinto predicts who will fly and who will flop at Euro 2012 in Poland and Ukraine. Have your say here.
June 6, 2012 -- Updated 1734 GMT (0134 HKT)
Portugal have never won a major tournament at senior level, could this be the year the Euro 2012 underdogs shine?
June 7, 2012 -- Updated 1859 GMT (0259 HKT)
Some of Europe's best footballers will be missing in Poland and Ukraine this month, as the effects of another grueling season takes its toll.
June 5, 2012 -- Updated 2040 GMT (0440 HKT)
Can defending European champions Spain retain their title in Poland and Ukraine? CNN's Pedro Pinto reports.
June 7, 2012 -- Updated 1902 GMT (0302 HKT)
Euro 2012 is nearly here and the 16 competing nations have announced the final 23-man squads.
June 22, 2012 -- Updated 0857 GMT (1657 HKT)
Check out who is playing who, and where, as 16 teams compete at the European Championship in Poland and Ukraine.
June 7, 2012 -- Updated 1920 GMT (0320 HKT)
The spotlight is on Ukrainian and Polish fans after a BBC investigation alleged racism was prevalent in the stands
Euro 2012 hosts Ukraine and Poland have told CNN a documentary accusing fans from both nations of racism was "unbalanced and biased."
May 18, 2012 -- Updated 1710 GMT (0110 HKT)
UEFA president Michel Platini tells CNN he thinks Chancellor Angela Merkel will attend the final of Euro 2012 in Ukraine -- if Germany reach it.
May 8, 2012 -- Updated 1510 GMT (2310 HKT)
It was supposed to be a symbol of Ukraine's development, but next month's Euro 2012 tournament has become mired in controversy.
April 30, 2012 -- Updated 1534 GMT (2334 HKT)
Poland and Ukraine will host the European Championships for the first time in 2012, welcoming 14 other teams and football fans from across the continent.
December 9, 2011 -- Updated 1652 GMT (0052 HKT)
The build-up to next year's finals has truly begun, so here is CNN's guide to our top 10 most memorable European Championship moments.
December 9, 2011 -- Updated 1655 GMT (0055 HKT)
With less than 200 days to go until Euro 2012 football fans across Europe can start to look forward to the tournament in Poland and Ukraine.