The UEFA EURO 2012 kicks off today and the anticipation is thick.
This year, however, the traditional boisterous talk about the tournament has been accompanied by debates over human rights in one of the host countries, Ukraine.
It seems like a continuing trend – human rights debates that encircle international events when the spotlight is on a despotic host country. We’ve seen it in the South African World Cup, Bahrain’s Formula 1 and most recently Azerbaijan’s hosting of the 2012 Eurovision Song Contest.
As the EURO 2012 approaches (kick-off of the first match between Poland and Greece in Warsaw takes this evening), several European leaders have declared they will boycott the games. Most have decried the treatment of former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, who began a seven-year prison sentence last year after, what some have called politically-motivated charges of abuse of office and tax evasion. Many have criticised her treatment in prison, where she has also previously been on hunger strike, regarding abuse and a lack of medical treatment for her back pain.
While the actual benefit of a boycott remains to be seen, pro-democracy and Ukrainian boxer Vitali Klitschko views the event as vital for bringing international attention to the human rights problems there:
This tournament is the biggest sporting event in the history of Ukraine. It has to happen. It is even an excellent opportunity to draw the world’s attention to the maladministration in our country.
Moreover, others have pointed to the ongoing use of torture and inhuman treatment by the Ukrainian police force. Many have warned incoming tourists and football fans to be especially aware of their behaviour in the Ukraine during the matches – the mix of football, nationalism and alcohol has typically brought with it a handful of arrests.
Although against what he calls the “politicization of sports,” Klitschko has told Der Spiegel, “Athletes also need to be clear about what is happening in a country in which they are competing. Think about the 1978 World Cup in Argentina. At the time, regime opponents were tortured and killed by the military junta, in some instances in the very stadiums where the World Cup matches were later played.”
And what is happening in Ukraine often amounts to torture.
“They electrocuted him, until he passed out, and poured toxic liquid down his throat to revive him”
Check out this video from Amnesty International that describes ongoing allegations of torture committed by police officers in Ukraine.