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Friday, May 25, 2012


The choice of UEFA to award the Euro 2012 tournament to Poland and Ukraine raised many eyebrows when it was made in 2007, mainly because of the comparatively undeveloped infrastructures of both countries, even though both countries were making significant economic progress at the time, and Ukraine was still basking somewhat in the glow of the 2004 Orange Revolution, which was spearheaded by the duo who would become president and prime minister - Viktor Yushchenko and Yulia Tymoshenko.

While both countries have made strides to try and put things right in time for the tournament, which kicks off in less than 3 weeks' time, it would seem that, in one area at least, Ukraine has been going backwards, and that has made a large section of the European body politic a rather less than happy bunch of people.

The area in question is, of course, human rights, and, more specifically, those of ex-prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko, who was sentenced to seven years in prison in October last year on charges of abuse of office whilst in office. Many observers have claimed that the charges against Tymoshenko were fabricated by the current president, Viktor Yanukovitch, to remove her from the Ukrainian political arena until after the next presidential election, which is due to take place in 2015, and, in the more immediate future, local elections which are scheduled for this October.

The charges came about as a result of an oil and gas pricing agreement signed in 2009 by Timoshenko, whilst in the office of Ukrainian Prime Minister, and her Russian counterpart; over the weekend, Yanukovitch's government issued a statement claiming that Ukraine was over 6 billion Euros worse off as a result of signing the agreement.

Since her incarceration in August 2011, two months before she was sentenced, Tymoshenko has, it has been claimed, undergone various forms of physical and verbal abuse, and was refused permission to go to Germany for an operation on her back. She was interned in a prison in Kharkiv, several hundred kilometres east of the Ukrainian capital, at the end of last year, and, last month, was moved to a hospital against her will. She then began a 20-day hunger-strike in protest at her treatment, which ended on 9/5/12.

What allegedly precipitated Tymoshenko's hunger-strike were beatings she received from prison guards, who, according to a report on CNN, wrapped her in a bedsheet and repeatedly punched her in the stomach. Photos of her seriously-bruised abdomen and arms have been circulated on the internet.

Yanukovitch ordered that Tymoshenko be operated upon by Ukrainian doctors, but she refused. Eventually, permission was granted for a German doctor to operate on the 51 year-old, but only after intense political pressure from western European leaders, and, at the time of writing, this has commenced. The Ukrainian city of Yalta, situated on the southern coast of the Crimea, was due to host a summit of 18 central and eastern European countries just under a fortnight ago. However, Yanukovitch was stood up by the other 17 leaders invited to take part, and, as everybody knows, it's no fun sitting at a table on your own.

There are apparently at least 10 separate investigations under way which are seking to implicate Tymoshenko in some way or other, ranging from bribery, tax-evasion and using ambulances during her unsuccessful 2010 presidential campaign, to involvement in the murder of an Ukrainian businessman and politician and his wife in 1996. Towards the end of last month, the German government announced that their delegation would be boycotting the final of Euro 2012 if things did not improve regarding Tymoshenko, a woman many believe should not be in prison in the first place.

There were murmurings of political discontent from across Europe concerning Tymoshenko's treatment, and a lot of criticism originated from Ukraine's co-hosts, Poland, though those from the 15 football associations from outside Ukraine whose teams will be taking part in Euro 2012 and are scheduled to play their group matches there are not planning to cancel their hotel reservations just yet. However, EU preident Herman van Rompuy and European Commission president José Manuel Barroso have declined their invitations to the tournament, as have governmental representatives from Austria and Belgium. German chancellor Angela Merkel, meanwhile, was also considering staying away, as was the country's minister of sport.

Philipp Lahm, Germany captain, in an interview published in German newspaper Der Spiegel, stated that he did not appear to see his own "views of democratic fundamental rights, human rights, personal freedom or press freedom to be reflected in the present political situation in Ukraine." Yanukovitch, meanwhile, remains unmoved by all the criticism. Most football fans from outide Ukraine don't really seem to care, either. They just want to see some football.

They are also, however, going to have pay an arm and a leg should they wish to stay over in Ukraine. A recent article on the BBC News alleged that prices for a hotel-room have, in many cases, increased ten-fold and that a bog-standard room booked in a hotel in Kiev will cost some 350 Euros.

Well, Pat's Football blog carried out a totally non-scientific and random survey of a few hotels and hostels in and around Kiev and Donetsk, and the results, using the nights of 18/5/12 and 11/6/12 as examples, confirm the claims posted by the BBC, to some extent, at least. Four hotels (double-room) and a hostel in Kiev were looked at (on 17/5/12), using the website, as well as two hotels in Donetsk. Prices are in Euros.

ADLER (KIEV): 18/5/12 - 45; 11/6/12 - 165
AGAT (DONETSK): 18/5/12 - 49; 11/6/12 - 587
AUTOGRAPH (KIEV): 18/5/12 - 173; 11/6/12 - 414
BONBON (DONETSK): 18/5/12 - 68; 11/6/12 - 763
HOSTEL KIEV CITY CENTRE (KIEV): 18/5/12 - 12; 11/6/12 - 117
RIVIERA BOUTIQUE (KIEV): 18/5/12 - 248; 11/6/12 - 1971
UKRAINE (KIEV); 18/5/12 - 109; 11/6/12 - 287

It probably will not have escaped your attention that no hotels have been listed for night of the final, due to held in Kiev on 1/7/12. This is in part due to the fact that most hotels have already posted the "Sold Out" signs outside; there are some (still reasonably-priced) hostel beds available. If you fancy shelling out a couple of thousand Euros for an apartment for the night instead, though, go right ahead.

UEFA president Michel Platini has been on the record as having described Ukrainian hotel proprietors as "bandits and crooks", though one can be sure that they will not be having any sleepless nights over Platini's criticism.

Another sector of the Ukrainian population who are rubbing their hands in anticipation of a bumper Euro 2012 consists of what one could call corrupt sectors of the local police force, who are not afraid of "requesting" a few Euros, dollars or whatever from passers-by. Apparently, when confronted by corrupt members of the Ukrainian police force (and this is not to say that all Ukrainian police officers are corrupt) whilst on the street who request that a fine be paid, one is recommended to ask for an "Angliski protocol" (an English-language statement). Never mind arbitrary stop and search, to hear people talk you would think that there was an "arbitrary stop and fine" policy in the Ukrainian police.

Ukrainian police have reportedly added the Taser-gun to their arsenal in recent times and aren't afraid to use it. Donetsk police used them against supporters during disturbances at a league game in Donetsk, according to claims made by a local supporter's group in an article published on the Reuters website this week. Bribery, assaulting remand prisoners and using excessive methods to quell disturbances all add up to painting a bleak picture of the Ukrainian police force.

Max Tucker, Amnesty International's campaigner on Ukraine, said this recently: "As things stand, fans visiting Euro 2012 are under threat from a criminal police force....Without an institution that will hold officers accountable Ukrainian police will continue to beat and torture as they please. And in all the cases the media doesn’t hear about, they will get away with it."

All of this does not paint a very favourable picture of Ukraine, though, as with everything, there are two sides to every story, and, as always, the truth will lie somewhere in the middle. One cannot say whether Yulia Tymoshenko will be released any time soon, or even before the 2015 presidential election, but campaigners are not giving up hope. Hotel prices for the duration of Euro 2012 do not appear to be coming down. So much for the promise made by the Ukrainian government that the problem of crazy, rip-off room-rates would be tackled swiftly and firmly. As for the police, they have been instructed by the national government to take a more softly-softly approach towards foreign visitors; how softly-softly it will all turn out to be remains to be seen. As for the Ukrainian people, they are, in general, surely no better nor worse than anyone else.

And then, there's the threat of a boycott of Euro 2012 in the Ukraine from the great and good of western European politics. That may well come to pass, but, again, Yanukovitch will not be too bothered by this. Russian president Vladimir Putin has thrown his tuppence-worth into the mix as well, telling the Russian news-agency Novosti that: "In absolutely every case, you can't mix politics, business and other issues with sport." 

If UEFA were suddenly to turn round and take the Ukrainian half of the tournament away and give it, say, to Germany, there would be ructions. It is, it has to be said, a most unlikely scenario..but what if it actually happened? Well, there would be a huge problem of the financial kind for travel insurers, airlines, hotel chains, not to mention UEFA itself..and, more importantly, those fans afected by the tournament's re-location.. No, that's not going to happen, in spite of the best efforts of some European politicians, who would perhaps be better advised to leave any boycotts and protests to the fans.

Boycotts never seem to work; look at the 1980 and 1984 versions of the Olympic Games. Apart from Platini's airing of his opinions on Ukrainian hotel owners, UEFA have remained silent on current affairs in the Ukraine. Perhaps those participating in the Euros should keep schtum on what is happening in the Ukraine; it doesn't mean, however, that those of us who will be watching the tournament, whether we are viewing it in the country's stadia or on TV, should necessarily stand by with muzzled mouths.

One could look at what is happening in the Ukraine and view it as a test-case with regard to what is still to come, starting with the 2014 World Cup in Brazil and the lack of rights for the indigenous American Indian population - not forgetting the raging poverty in, and the environmental destruction of, many parts of the country. Then, you have the 2018 World Cup in Russia and the human rights situation there, together with a culture of endemic racism and homophobia within football, and a seemingly dictatorial political system (with a cult of personality centred round president Vladimir Putin at its core) and a lack of press freedom without.

Finishing off an unwanted hat-trick is the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, with the country's statutory discrimination against LGBTs and non-Muslims, not to mention that FIFA stands to gain financially from all three tournaments. All of these scenarions, with all due respect to Yulia Tymoshenko and all others who may be well have been wrongfully imprisoned and wrongfully ill-treated, make Ukraine look like a comparative paradise, and that's just for visiting supporters. It's all very worrying, and it makes FIFA look as though it's only after what financial gain it can get from what it termed as football's "new frontiers" when they were chosen to host the 2018 and 2022 tournaments. That, however, is another story for another day..

HELP BILLY WALK APPEAL: The Help Billy Appeal, ongoing since last year, aims to raise enough money to enable a young 3-year-old boy, Billy Douglas, who comes from a village just outside Belfast and who suffers from spastic diaplegia, to undergo an urgent and potentially life-changing operation. Should you wish to know more, Billy's plight has been highlighted in a recent entry here on Pat's Football Blog:

Or, of course, for those who might want to bypass the article and go straight to goal, the appeal's website address

If you can donate, please do so. If not, kindly post either link on your Facebook page if you have one and share, or tweet. Many thanks. An update will be posted here shortly.

FOOTBALL BLOGGING AWARDS 2012: In an act of unapologetic, not to mention unashamed, self-promotion, Pat's Football Blog has nominated itself in the Male category of this year's Football Blogging awards, which will take place in Manchester in July.
To vote via Facebook, kindly go to the Football Blogging Awards page. To vote via Twitter, tweet to @TheFBAs, with your username and #Male (category). There are several categories, and it's up to you who you vote for, of course, but a vote for Pat's Football Blog will always be very welcome. After all, it isn't your everyday blog..

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