Ministers boycott England game over human rights in Ukraine

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The Government is to boycott England’s Euro 2012 quarter-final on Sunday because of concerns over human rights in Ukraine, Downing Street has confirmed.

But Number 10 is holding open the prospect that senior political figures could be at the final if the team gets that far – despite it also being played in Kiev.

No Ministers watched the team’s group matches amid criticism of the treatment of Ukraine’s jailed opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko, though the UK’s ambassador in Kiev did attend.

But the Government has faced accusations of inconsistency after failing to pledge to sustain the policy of staying away if England do well in the competition.

Asked why Ministers would not be in Kiev on Sunday to see England take on Italy, a Downing Street spokeswoman said: “It reflects Ministers’ busy schedules ahead of the Olympics and widespread concerns about selective justice and the rule of law in the Ukraine.”

If England win, there may be official attendance at the semi-final which is to be played in Poland.

But asked if the boycott would then apply to the final in Kiev, should they progress that far, the spokeswoman added: “Let’s see how we get on on Sunday. No decision has been made.”

Asked if Prime Minister David Cameron would attend the final if England feature in it, a senior Downing Street aide said: “Let’s not get ahead of ourselves.”

Labour has called for a ministerial boycott of all games staged in Ukraine, including the final if England win their next two matches.

Shadow Foreign Office Minister Emma Reynolds said the partial commitment to stay away was causing “damaging uncertainty”.

And Foreign Office Minister Jeremy Browne faced criticism yesterday after trying to defend the position by playing down England’s chances of success.

Asked if the Government approved of the attendance of the ambassador – Leigh Turner – Downing Street said: “What we have set out is the position regarding Ministers.”

Ms Tymoshenko, a leading figure in 2004’s Orange Revolution, claims her seven-year jail term, for alleged corruption while prime minister, is a politically motivated move by Ukraine’s president, Viktor Yanukovych. Her allegations are rejected by Kiev, which has criticised the boycott.

Meanwhile the Football Association has been fined 5,000 euros (£4,035) by Uefa for the “inappropriate conduct” of some of England’s fans during their win over Sweden in Kiev last Friday.

In a statement European football’s governing body confirmed the fine was for the attempted pitch invasion by England supporters during the Group D match.

The FA have decided not to contest the fine, believing the relative small amount reflects Uefa’s belief the incident was not serious.

“The FA accepts Uefa’s sanction in relation to the incident versus Sweden and we consider the matter closed,” said an FA statement.

The FA presented video evidence and strong mitigating circumstances in their defence at a Uefa hearing, including that the potential “invasion” during the 3-2 win was nothing more than exuberance rather than a deliberate plan by some supporters to get onto the pitch.

After England’s second and third goals by Theo Walcott and Danny Welbeck between 20 and 30 fans surged forward towards the barriers but no-one got further than the outside of the Olympic Stadium’s running track.

The incident was so minor the Uefa match delegate is not thought to have even mentioned it in his match report.

After so many years when the behaviour of England’s supporters has been called into question, the FA have been able to confirm there has not been a single arrest in either Poland or Ukraine.

Uefa has faced criticism for fining the Croatian FA £65,000 after their fans were found guilty of racially abusing Italy striker Mario Balotelli but imposing a higher fine of £80,000 to Denmark’s Nicklas Bendtner for revealing underwear sponsored by a bookmaker.

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