The soccer field is no place for conducting politics, says PACE President

Strasbourg , 05.09.206 – René Van der Linden, the President of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), today expressed his great surprise at the proposal to boycott Wednesday's soccer match between the Netherlands and Belarus. According to Hans Van Baalen, a Liberal Party member of the Dutch House of Representatives, the boycott would be a means of fighting dictatorship in Belarus.

Mr Van der Linden said that the soccer field was not a place for conducting politics. “We all know that sport can build bonds of brotherhood and comradeship, placing the human dimension – even within a broader political context – at the forefront of relations between states. Mixing politics and sport means taking a wrong and potentially dangerous path. A Dutch boycott of the soccer match with Belarus would represent a big step backwards and would ultimately do more harm than good to the citizens of Belarus.”

“The Council of Europe sees sport as an important social activity based upon mutual respect, tolerance and fair play,” continued Mr Van der Linden. “This is why, in co-operation with UEFA, the Parliamentary Assembly is organising a conference on 29 September 2006, which will study how the expertise of the Council of Europe can work with sporting bodies to promote respect throughout Europe for our common, fundamental values of democracy, human rights and the rule of law.”

“The Parliamentary Assembly is working hard for change in Belarus,” he concluded. “Last spring, we adopted resolutions on the political situation in Belarus and on the presidential elections, following which I organised an international conference on Belarus in Prague. Further effort and commitment are certainly needed to make even slow progress, but this call to boycott a soccer match will only complicate that process.”
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