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Dear Croatia…..

As the Euros kick off and England gear up to take on Croatia this weekend, many across the globe will look forward – hopefully – to some world class football.

Football, or rather footballers, over the past couple of years have become much more than sportsmen and women, and have used their celebrity status for good causes as we have seen with Marcus Rashford and his inspiring campaigning for free school dinners over lockdown.

Player-status is acknowledged by England Manager, Gareth Southgate, who wrote a powerful blog entitled ‘Dear England’ on website Players Tribune, highlighting what England, football and its players represent:

“It’s their duty to continue to interact with the public on matters such as equality, inclusivity and racial injustice, while using the power of their voices to help put debates on the table, raise awareness and educate.”

You may well wonder what Protect, the UK’s whistleblowing charity, the England football team and its manager Gareth Southgate have in common. Well, a shared belief in the values of our country and speaking out over wrongdoing.

The Dear England blog continues: ”Regardless of your upbringing and politics, what is clear is that we are an incredible nation — relative to our size and population — that has contributed so much to the arts, science and sport. We do have a special identity and that remains a powerful motivator.

In a funny way, I see the same Englishness represented by the fans who protested against the Super League. We are independent thinkers. We speak out on the issues that matter to us and we are proud of that.”

For Protect and our supporters, Croatia has come to be associated with whistleblower Jonathan Taylor who has been detained in Croatia for almost a year against his will. Arrested on holiday with his family in July last year, Jonathan has remained there, away from his family, isolated and unable to support himself or his family. His mental health and wellbeing have been placed under unimaginable strain. The story is complex but back in 2012, whilst working as in-house lawyer for oil firm SBM Offshore based in Monaco, Jonathan blew the whistle on an international network of corrupt payments made by his employer. Jonathan’s whistleblowing disclosures led to SBM Offshore paying over $800 million in fines in the US, Netherlands and Brazil as well as successful prosecutions for fraud related offences.

And yet some nine years later, he finds himself arrested whilst on holiday. He is wanted for questioning in Monaco, over allegations made by his former employer during his settlement. Jonathan denies wrongdoing, and his lawyers state that there is no legal basis for extraditing him for questioning as he is neither charged nor convicted of any offences.

We have repeatedly pleaded with the UK Government to intervene but the answer we keep hearing is ‘It is for Croatia to determine whether Mr Taylor should be extradited to Monaco.’

Which brings us back to Croatia.

Protect, along with UK MPs and human and civil rights campaigners across Europe, has written to Croatia’s Minister of Justice Ivan Malenica pleading with him to stop the extradition and ‘for the Croatian Government to prevent and root out corruption that undermines the fabric of its societies and the well-being of its people.’

Gareth Southgate is no politician (though we’d wager he’d make a good one) but he recognises fair play. A final excerpt from his Dear England blog:

“When England play, there’s much more at stake than that. It’s about how we conduct ourselves on and off the pitch, how we bring people together, how we inspire and unite…..

….No matter what happens, I just hope that their parents, teachers and club managers will turn to them and say, “Look. That’s the way to represent your country. That’s what England is about. That is what’s possible.””

We wish England and Croatia a fair and enjoyable game. But off pitch, just as Gareth Southgate highlights, we hope Croatia conducts itself well and does the right thing by Jonathan Taylor.

Lou O’Neill, Head of Communications

Ends