German sports officials bid to halt Euro boycott talk

Publish date:

BERLIN (Reuters) -- German sports officials urged the country's politicians on Monday to drop any thoughts of a boycott of June's European soccer championships in Ukraine and Poland, saying similar actions have not been successful in the past.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel could cancel her visit to Ukraine during Euro 2012 if jailed former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko is not released by then, Germany's Der Spiegel magazine reported on Sunday.

"Boycotting major sports events has proved to be unsuccessful and senseless in the past," German Olympic Sports confederation chief Thomas Bach said.

"After the boycott of the 1980 (Moscow) Olympic Games not a single Russian soldier withdrew from Afghanistan," he told hr radio in reference to a Games boycott of several nations including the United States over the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

Bach, who is also an International Olympic Committee Vice President, said the world of sport should always remain neutral.

"Sports cannot and should not be political," he said. "It must always be neutral. Only then can it be unifying and help build bridges instead of erecting walls."

Former German soccer federation boss (DFB) Theo Zwanziger, who is now a senior official at world governing body FIFA, also opposed any boycott.

"We have achieved nothing with this in past events," said Zwanziger.

The European Union saw Tymoshenko's jailing last October as politically motivated and has criticised her abuse-of-office conviction. The case has strained ties between the former Soviet republic and the EU it aspires to join one day.

"If Tymoshenko is not released by the start of the Euros in June, the German footballers will then most likely have to play without Merkel being in attendance," Der Spiegel said without naming any sources.

Ukraine is co-hosting the June 8-July 1 tournament together with neighbouring Poland. Merkel usually travels to attend important matches involving the Germany team.

Tymoshenko, 51, the main political rival of President Viktor Yanukovich, is serving a seven-year prison term in the city of Kharkiv, where Germany will play one of its group matches.

She has been on hunger strike for more than a week.