This Friday, the European Football Championship kicks off in Poland and Ukraine. What is sure to be a fantastic festival of football and community is unfortunately likely to be overshadowed by events off the pitch.
In Ukraine, jailed opposition leader Yulia Timoshenko has only recently ended her hunger strike after being sentenced in a trial regarded by the European Union and others as an example of "selective justice". In January, the Council of Europe called for Timoshenko's release, a call supported by LYMEC. All EU Commissioners, together with many national government officials have decided to boycott the tournament in Ukraine. In addition, the welfare of the LGBT population in the country continues to be of great concern, with no anti-discrimination laws covering sexual orientation or gender identity and an alarming rise in influence of homophobic interest groups.
With this in mind, UEFA's view that it will "not interfere with internal government matters" appears to be timid at best.
LYMEC President Jeroen Diepemaat comments: “Although many government officials have decided to boycott the events in Ukraine, the European Championship is for sure a way to raise awareness for the worrying political situation in Ukraine. I sincerely hope this attention will not decrease after the final match has been played.”
Meanwhile, in both host nations, there have been worrying reports of antisemitism and racism within football grounds. As Euro 2012 is in part a celebration of our continent's diversity, it is LYMEC's hope that both the tournament organisers and match day officials work hard to prevent such horrific behaviour.
LYMEC welcomes the fact that a major football tournament is being held in Eastern Europe for the first time. However, we also call for greater pressure to placed on the governments of the host nations to ensure that the political freedom, human rights and culture of tolerance many of us take for granted are also enjoyed by their citizens.