News & Opinion on how countries are aiming to utilise 'Soft Power', 'Public Diplomacy' and 'Nation Branding'
Following on from last week’s blog regarding the communication and PR problems that Ukraine is facing ahead of their hosting of Euro 2012, the problems facing the Eastern European country intensified yesterday when the UK government became the latest country to announce a boycott of the Championship, when the Foreign Office announced that ministers would boycott England’s Euro 2012 group matches which are taking place in Ukraine.
The announcement marks a shift in approach after William Hague had categorically said that sport should be celebrated not utilised for political stunts continue the negative publicity for Ukraine surrounding the event and follows on from accusations from racism that appeared in the English press following a Panorama documentary.
The boycott which comes less than twenty-four hours before the tournament is about to begin has been derided in Ukraine, but while it does impose some negative publicity on Ukraine it raises a number of questions about British ‘public diplomacy’: is the announcement not selective justice/protest? Why just the group stages? Why Ukraine? And why now, why announce it on the eve of the tournament?
Firstly, why Ukraine? While not supporting what Ukraine have subjected Tymoshenko too, why have the British government chosen to boycott Ukraine in 2012 but other not Beijing and China in 2008. Yes there have been human rights abuses over the Tymoshenko case, but the government sent representatives to China in 2008 for the Olympics when the country had also been criticised for human rights abuses.
They turned a blind eye then, so why has it chosen to make an example of Ukraine? While the country place sanctions on Syrian representatives and other repressive regimes coming to Britain for the Olympics later in the summer. It is increasingly looking not as a principled protest but a selective protest; only undertaken when it suits British interests. This ‘public diplomacy’ strategy won’t look credible or legitimate but as mere propaganda as they aim to deflect attention from a country, and cheaply undermine a state.
Secondly, why just the group stages? In making the announcement that they would boycott the group stages but reassess the situation if England progress seems ‘half-hearted’. With England set to play at least one knockout stage game in Ukraine if they progress that far, it would be interesting to see if the ministers hold the line if England does advance and the situation around Tymoshenko stays the same. Every politician loves to be associated with success and England being successful in Euro 2012 is an excellent ‘public diplomacy’ opportunity which British politicians will clamour to be associated with. If England did progress to the final, which is also being held in Ukraine, would the politicians compromise then? Surely if they did the boycott would backfire and reflect badly on England? They would be seen as not principled and hypocritical.
And finally, why now? Why on the eve of the tournament? The eleventh hour gesture looks like a cheap political trick; an aim to get one over. The Labour MP, Stephen Pound, has already described it as “cheap, gutter politics”. This view could be replicated around Europe and reflect badly upon Britain. Additionally, this gesture could have an impact on other British ‘public diplomacy’ activities. The International Olympic Committee, UEFA and FIFA will not exactly be pleased that the decision has been made so late in the day and it could potentially jeopardise the country’s chances of landing other mega-events, and leaves the country open to a backlash when the Olympics begins in London later this summer.
It will be interesting to see how this situation plays out; whether more country’s follow and how this ultimately impacts not just upon Ukraine’s reputation and ‘soft power’, but also Britain’s; especially if they change there mind for the knockout stages. As it looks increasingly likely that the negatives of hosting Euro 2012 are outshining the positives, it is increasingly becoming likely that Euro 2012 will become a true PR disaster for Ukraine and not the success it hoped for.