Though sports should, many argue, be a space free of politics, there is a long history of politicians using it as a tool — most dramatically with threats to boycott Olympic games.
Experts say these have never really done much to change the situation on the ground, though athletes have found their dreams of competing slashed after years of training.
The boycott of the Moscow games, spearheaded by President Jimmy Carter, caused bitterness that lingered for years.
"What did it help in 1980 that the U.S. didn't compete? The Soviets still stayed in Afghanistan," said Bill Mallon, a past president and co-founder of the International Society of Olympic Historians. "I don't think boycotts are ever really helpful. All they ever do is deny athletes the chance to compete."
In 1978, the Netherlands led calls to boycott the World Cup in Argentina to protest a military dictatorship and its human rights violations. But the boycott didn't happen.
To be sure, nobody now is talking about keeping national teams from competing in this summer's championship. But EU President Hermann Van Rompuy, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso and the governments of Austria and Belgium say they will stay away. Merkel vows to do the same if treatment of Tymoshenko doesn't improve.
While many fans probably don't care if one politician more or less is sitting in the stands, all the talk of a boycott is already embarrassing Ukrainian leaders.
"We found the resources, built the stadiums, the airports, bridges, roads, interchanges, renovated hospitals and now they are telling us: boycott Euro," Ukrainian Prime Minister Mykola Azarov said Monday. "Is that normal? How should we feel about this? Who do they want to humiliate? They want to humiliate our entire people, our country."
UEFA, the European football association that is organizing the event, not surprisingly also opposes a boycott of Ukraine. Michel Platini, the president, sent a letter in March to a human rights group and the parliaments of the EU, Sweden and Germany acknowledging Kiev's problems but arguing that the matches and other activities planned on the sidelines could help Ukrainian society.
Platini wrote that when UEFA decided to stage Euro 2012 in two ex-communist countries, its goal was to open up to a part of Europe that had never hosted a championship.
"This desire to broaden our horizons is without doubt a double-edged sword," Platini wrote. "But it does have the virtue of opening up nations and favoring exchanges."
Associated Press writers Jim Heintz in Moscow and Maria Danilova in Kiev contributed to this report.