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Ukraine crisis: Platini backs Russia’s right to play in W’Cup

Russia’s stand off with Ukraine might be spilling over into the sporting arena with the idea floated for Fabio Capello’s team to be barred from contesting June’s World Cup, but the UEFA president believes this would be a travesty for the players who worked so hard to qualify for the finals in Brazil.

Ukrainian officials and Western diplomats accuse Russia of sending thousands of troops into the Crimea region in the past week — a claim Russia has denied.

Earlier this week, an unnamed European Union official was reported to have told a BBC journalist that his organization may try to expel Russia from the 2014 finals.

“I don’t know why 11 players would not be allowed to play at the World Cup. Where is their responsibility?” Michel Platini told CNN.

“Why don’t you (shut down) the Embassy? Embassies are still in the country.”

Platini might now be an administrator, but he speaks from personal experience of how politics is never far away from sport.

The former France international had a similar decision to make when considering whether to contest the 1978 World Cup or not.

There were calls from various quarters to boycott the finals because of the repressive measures being undertaken by the military junta, which took charge in a coup in March 1976 and would rule until 1983.
One of the most infamous periods in Argentina’s history followed, as thousands of individuals — primarily with left wing leanings — disappeared during the ‘Dirty War’.

As the South American nation prepared to host its only World Cup to date, calls for a potential boycott were led by the Dutch whose team — perhaps ironically — would not just attend the event but reach the final as well.
Amnesty International was also a prominent campaigner as was a group in France called COBA, the French acronym for the ‘Committee for the Boycott of the World Cup in Argentina’, who wanted the competition scrapped altogether.

Despite the pressure, Platini — who was just 20 at the time — chose to play.

“It’s always better to go and explain what you think is good rather than boycott,” said the UEFA president.

“I think it’s better to explain that you are not happy, which is the same opinion I had in 1978 when I was in Argentina for the World Cup,” added the 58-year-old.

“I thought it was better to go and explain that we were not happy with what was happening in Argentina.
“It could be the same in Russia.”

The Ukrainian Paralympic team is facing an equally tough choice as to whether it will boycott the Sochi Games or not.

Ukraine’s sports minister has already announced a personal boycott and as the tense diplomatic and military standoff continues with Russia, it’s possible the whole team could follow suit.

Should they do so, such a move could overshadow Friday’s Opening Ceremony.

In addition to Ukraine’s sports minister, politicians from Germany, Britain, the Netherlands, Canada and Poland are among those who have already said they will stay away.

Earlier this week, the White House canceled a presidential delegation to the Paralympic Games.

On Thursday, Germany announced it would not send governmental representatives in order to make a “very clear political signal to Russia”, according to disabilities commissioner Verena Bentele.

Ukraine Paralympic Committee spokeswoman Natalia Garach told CNN a decision on whether the Ukrainian team will boycott Sochi will be announced at a press conference at 0930 GMT on Friday.

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