The spokesman of the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry, Oleh Voloshyn, has probably never heard that well-known quote. Giving his ministry’s line on the growing calls in Europe for a boycott of the Euro 2012 championship in Ukraine, he insisted recently that politics should have nothing to do with sport.
Maybe it shouldn’t, but nevertheless it does: Football is a game that has always involved more passions than just those generated by 90 minutes of action on the field. When Glasgow rivals Rangers and Celtic meet, ugly tribalism and festering religious bigotry, lingering still from ancient battles, also attend the game. At the international level, old conflicts between contending nations are often recalled, (if only in jest), as exemplified by the famous quote of sports reporter Frank McGhee, who wrote on the eve of the 1966 World Cup final between England and Germany that “If, on the morrow, the Germans beat us at our national game, we’d do well to remember that, twice this century, we’ve beaten them at theirs."
So the Foreign Ministry shouldn’t really be surprised that the internal politics of their country look set to play a part in the upcoming European football championship that Ukraine is co-hosting with Poland.