Sports Diplomacy

What’s going on in the EU/Ukraine is definitely not the first recorded case of sports diplomacy.

European Commissioners yesterday joined Dutch and Belgian officials in refusing to attend matches in the former Soviet state in protest against Tymoshenko’s incarceration, while the German and Czech presidents are among leaders to pull out of a summit in the Black Sea town of Yalta.

It actually occurs quite often, enough to warrant a Wikipedia article. There’s also a few articles out there on the subject, so imagine my surprise when Ukraine is baffled by the EU decision to politicize a couple of soccer games. The Ukraine should have seen this as a logical outcome of the brutal elbow bombs to Yulia Tymonshenko’s stomach. If you want to work on easing tension, you send high-profile people to a sporting event hosted by your belligerent other. If you want to increase tension, in an act of low-level coercion to gain concessions(Releasing Yulia or letting her receive treatment outside of Ukraine) you stain their event with the public removal of high level officials from the host country. Ukraine has now missed out on a very rare chance for it to bolster its position on the international stage. It’s extremely important to non OECD member countries to host events like the UEFA. In Ukraine’s case, it would remind us of their autonomy, make a case for the identity they would like to be accepted by others, one where they are a separate entity from Russia. With the removal of Angela Merkel and others, I’m not sure if this will be possible during UEFA. The next opportunity may never arise, because they could be too far up Russia’s ass by then or locked into the role of hopelessly dysfunctional AIDS riddled ex-Soviet republic with a sham democracy.

The EU might realize some of the long-term consequences of their actions(Nobody wants Ukraine back in the Kremlin lap) and think Yulia isn’t worth the trouble, but brinksmanship may be the best course of action here. I doubt both parties have the stomach for it, so I’m sure this issue will be solved before June. Bet on that.


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