left corner left corner
China Daily Website

Ukraine coach denies his country is racist

Updated: 2012-06-11 17:32
( Agencies)

KIEV - Ukraine's national soccer team coach on Sunday defended his country against racism charges that threaten government hopes of the Euro 2012 tournament spurring integration with European democracies.

Oleg Blokhin, a former player and national sporting hero, put down his headphones and stopped listening to the translation of a question about racism during a news conference at the soccer finals which Ukraine and Poland are co-hosting.

"I don't want to talk about racism. There is no racism in Ukraine," Blokhin said on the eve of the former Soviet republic's opening match against Sweden, a nation that is one of Europe's most vocal defenders of human rights.

"This is a political matter. I don't think it has anything to do with football. If there are any incidents, they will not be in Ukraine," he told the news conference in the Olympic Stadium in the capital Kiev.

Questioning quickly returned to soccer matters but the incident underlined Ukraine's problems in keeping attention fixed on sport, rather than politics, at an event it had hoped would show its democratic credentials for joining the European Union.

The biggest sports event in eastern Europe since the Berlin Wall fell risks having the opposite effect by drawing the world's attention to allegations of racism, human rights abuses and the plight of jailed opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko.

Poland's prime minister showed his concern over the allegations of racism by dining at the home of the country's first black member of parliament last week.

Ukrainian officials have repeatedly offered assurances that racism is not rife in the country, and have said the unofficial boycott of matches in Ukraine will not affect Tymoshenko's situation.