Ukraine on Wednesday insisted it was on track to host Euro 2012 soccer despite a growing number of EU politicians pledging to boycott the event in protest at Kiev’s treatment of a former prime minister.
Austria announced that no member of its government would be attending games in Ukraine in a gesture of solidarity with the jailed former Ukrainian prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko, a day after European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said he had “no intention” of traveling to the country.
Media reports said Germany was considering a similar move, while German Chancellor Angela Merkel said she would decide at the last minute.
“UEFA [Europe’s soccer governing body] has made no serious criticism about Ukraine,” Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Borys Kolesnikov said in a telephone interview.
“The tournament is ready and on May 11, we will be transferring the control of the four stadia to UEFA,” he added, declining to comment specifically on the boycott threats.
Tymoshenko was jailed for seven years in October last year on charges of abuse of power while in office, after a trial that was bitterly criticized by the West as appearing politically motivated.
The controversy has intensified in recent weeks as the countdown begins to the championships, with Tymoshenko now in the 13th day of a hunger strike and claiming to have been beaten by guards at her prison in Kharkiv.
Poland, the co-host of the tournament, came out in strong support of Ukraine late on Wednesday.
“In my opinion, calls for a boycott are completely inappropriate in terms of the current situation in Ukraine,” Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski told Poland’s public broadcaster, TVP1.
“The Olympic games were boycotted only twice in history — in Moscow and Beijing,” Komorowski added, referring to the decision by some Western nations to shun the 1980 games over the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, and similar concerns at the 2008 games sparked by China’s crackdown on Tibetan rights protestors.
“This was done in the context of the war Russia declared on Afghanistan and the bloody suppression of Tibetan freedom seekers — blood was spilt, there were mass arrests, jailings,” said Komorowski, himself a Polish communist-era dissident.
“This isn’t the situation in Ukraine,” he said, adding: “We’re all well aware of it, so there must be some other kinds of calculations at play.”
Some EU member state members of parliament have even suggested that Ukraine should be stripped of the right to hold the championships and media reports in Spain said it could be held there.
Ukrainain Parliament Speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn angrily dismissed the idea.
“The Euro 2012 is to be held in Ukraine and Poland. Full stop. Or an exclamation mark if you like,” he said, quoted by the parliament press service.