Britain will not be sending any ministers to the group stage games of football’s Euro 2012 due to concerns about “selective justice” in Ukraine, the country’s foreign ministry has said.
Anger is running high across Europe over the treatment of jailed Ukrainian opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko, the former prime minister, and other governments have been putting mounting pressure on the country, which is co-hosting the 2012 European Championships with Poland.
England have been drawn in Group D, along with Ukraine, France, and Sweden. All the group’s matches will be played in Ukraine.
“The government fully supports England’s participation in Euro 2012,” a UK foreign ministry spokeswoman said.
“We hope this is a successful tournament for the England team, the fans, and the people of Ukraine and Poland.”
She said that although no ministers would attend group games at Euro 2012, “We are keeping attendance at later stages of the tournament under review in the light of ministers’ busy schedules ahead of the Olympics and widespread concerns about selective justice and the rule of law in Ukraine.”
William Hague, the UK foreign minister, later said there were “serious problems of course in Ukraine”.
“I hope for our team it’s a great sporting event but of course we don’t want people to understand that as giving political support to some things that have been happening in Ukraine that we don’t agree with,” he added.
The UK is not alone in taking such action, with Paris announcing last month that the French cabinet would boycott matches in Ukraine in protest at Tymoshenko’s treatment.
The European Union has said all its commissioners will skip tournament games in Ukraine, while Germany’s development minister said he was cancelling his planned visit to one of his country’s matches in the country due to human rights concerns.
England’s campaign starts against France on Monday in Donetsk. They face Sweden in Kiev on June 15 and Ukraine on Donetsk on June 19.
There is only one circumstance under which England could play in Poland, should they qualify for the knock-out stages.
If England top Group D they would play in Kiev in the quarter-finals and then Warsaw in the semis should they win. The final is being held in Kiev.
Tymoshenko was jailed for seven years in October on charges of abuse of power while in office, after a trial that was bitterly criticised by the West as appearing politically motivated.
One of the leaders of the “Orange Revolution” in 2004-05, Tymoshenko narrowly lost to President Viktor Yanukovych in presidential elections last year. The presidency denied any involvement in her trial.
Following her conviction, Britain raised concerns about serious violations of legal principles and said the ruling called into question Ukraine’s commitment to democracy and the rule of law.
Adding to the pre-tournament tensions, a recent BBC television documentary has heightened concerns in England about far-right hooliganism in both Poland and Ukraine.
The families of England wingers Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain have decided not to travel to Ukraine to support them because of concerns they could be targeted by a violent, racist minority.
England fans usually travel in big numbers but reports suggest they will have only a small following this time around.
The team have based themselves in Krakow in southern Poland, despite their group matches all being in Ukraine.