Posts Tagged ‘sports washing’

Dakar Rally: sports washing par excellence

January 15, 2020

AlKhaleej Today on 14 January 2020 carries an interesting post by Anthony Harwood, a former foreign editor of the Daily Mail, entitled: Dakar Rally opens dark new chapter in Saudi sportswashing“. Here some long excerpts listing some of the many sports events which Saudi Arabia has been buying, but with the main focus on the Dakar Rally. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/01/04/dakar-rally-starts-on-5-january-in-jeddah-but-hrds-in-jail/ and https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/01/13/saudi-arabia-finds-that-celebrities-are-easier-to-buy-than-human-rights-ngos/].

..But regrettable also that the organisers of the race, France’s Amaury Sport Organisation (ASO), have chosen not to say or do anything which might upset the host country, Saudi Arabia, and spark headlines around the world.  There was once a time when campaigners would call on sportsmen and women to boycott Riyadh when asked to play there, much as happened when “rebel tours” of South Africa were announced during the apartheid era. But that changed when the desert kingdom began offering huge sums of money that footballers, wrestlers, tennis players, snooker players and golfers were finding hard to turn down. 

Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International realised that calling for a boycott was never going to work when the lure of the Saudi riyal was so great and promoters could point to how companies like House of Fraser, Gucci, Chanel and Starbucks are already trading in Saudi Arabia, so what’s all the fuss?  Instead, campaign groups asked that anyone who went to Riyadh spoke out while they were there about the country’s appalling human rights abuses….

As Ines Osman, director of the MENA Rights Group, said: “These activists, and countless others, have paid the price of their freedom for the state’s ‘social change’ narrative. Competitors and sports fans must speak up, as silence allows Riyadh’s soft power tactics to wash away human rights abuses, shutting down the voices of Saudi human rights defenders.” 

The term ‘sportswashing’ has entered the lexicon as a way to describe how countries such as Saudi Arabia use sport to wash away the stains on their reputation and pretend everything in the garden is rosy.  To do this they lure sports stars and celebrities to their country with huge sums of money; only on Friday the manager of Barcelona, Ernesto Valverde, admitted that the only reason the Spanish Super Cup was being hosted in Riyadh was because of the money on offer.  Likewise, the British boxer, Anthony Joshua, got $86m to agree to last month’s world heavyweight title fight with Andy Ruiz Jnr in Saudi Arabia. 

..In November the Dakar director, David Castera, claimed there had been hesitation before choosing Saudi Arabia for the rally, but didn’t elaborate on what the “many guarantees” were which had held things up.  He also noted that Dakar was not the first sporting event to be held in Saudi, which of course is true, and is why the Saudis continue to spend a fortune attracting high-profile competitors: so it becomes normalised. 

The Saudi authorities have said they hope broadcasts of the race – showing the country’s beautiful expanses of desert, mountains and coastline – will provide a boost to its tourist industry. The sports minister, Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki al-Faisal, said accusations of sportswashing are wrong because his country was always criticised for “not opening up to the world”. What a crass thing to say. By opening up, we don’t mean gawping at the Saudi desert.  By opening up we mean having a transparent judicial system where a trial which allows the organisers of Khashoggi’s murder to escape punishment can be scrutinised.  By opening up we mean allowing a cross-party group of British members of parliament access to women’s rights activists detained in Saudi Arabia, as well as their guards, following claims they have been tortured and sexually assaulted while in jail.  By opening up we mean allowing an examination of how the Saudi-led coalition have carried out unlawful attacks in Yemen, restricted access to humanitarian aid, carried out arbitrary detention, enforced disappearances and child recruitment. 

It’s sad that not one of those drivers from 62 nations had so much as a pink armband between them when they set off from Jeddah on 5 January on what the Saudi media proudly call ‘Chapter 3’ in the race’s history.  If they don’t find their voices by the time they reach Riyadh on Friday – and I’m not holding my breath – the start of a five year contract to hold the race in Saudi Arabia will actually mark the most shameful stretch of the Dakar Rally’s history. 

For more of my posts on sports washing: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/sports-washing/

https://alkhaleejtoday.co/saudi-arabia/21704/Dakar-Rally-opens-dark-new-chapter-in-Saudi-sportswashing.html

Saudi Arabia finds that celebrities are easier to buy than human rights NGOs

January 13, 2020

On 13 January 2020 Amnesty International has released a joint statement, along with Transparency International and Civicus, [https://www.amnesty.org/en/documents/ior30/1649/2020/en/] explaining why it will not be engaging in this year’s C20 process, a cycle of preparatory meetings leading up to the annual G20 summit, which  started yesterday with a three-day “kick-off meeting”.

“The C20 is supposed to provide a platform for civil society voices from around the world to influence the G20 agenda. Since Saudi Arabia has locked up most of its own independent activists, the only domestic organizations present will be aligned with the government – which makes a mockery of the whole process,” said Netsanet Belay, Research and Advocacy Director at Amnesty International. “The C20 in Riyadh is a sham. We cannot participate in a process which is being abused by a state which censors all free speech, criminalizes activism for women’s and minority rights, as well as homosexuality, and tortures and executes critics.”

Saudi Arabia took over the G20 presidency in December 2019. It has recently invested in expensive PR campaigns to improve its image, and hosted several high-profile sporting events which draw international visitors [see e.g.: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/01/04/dakar-rally-starts-on-5-january-in-jeddah-but-hrds-in-jail/]. But behind this carefully cultivated façade, Saudi Arabia’s human rights record is as appalling as ever. Saudi Arabia is responsible for the extrajudicial execution of the journalist and peaceful critic Jamal Khashoggi. More than a year after his murder in October 2018, there has been no justice or accountability for his death. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/12/27/saudi-arabia-continues-to-buy-celebrities-this-time-for-the-mdl-beast-festival/]

The country’s leading women’s rights activists remain behind bars and on trial for their promotion of women’s rights in the country. Scores of other individuals, including human rights defenders, have been serving lengthy prison terms for their peaceful activism or have been arbitrarily detained for up to a year and a half without charges. The Saudi Arabian authorities have also carried out executions following unfair trials and routine torture and other ill-treatment in custody.

The Saudi-led C20 process has already failed to guarantee the C20’s fundamental principles. The appointment of the Chairs of working groups and various committees was opaque and non-consultative, while arbitrary decisions have excluded experienced international groups. The C20 process is led by the King Khalid Foundation, which is connected to the Saudi Royal Family, and cannot be considered as transparent, inclusive and participatory. Since the Saudi authorities ban political parties, trade unions and independent human rights groups, there is no way the C20 meetings can be the free and open discussions they are designed to be.

The full statement is available here

Dakar Rally starts on 5 January in Jeddah but HRDs in jail

January 4, 2020

Annual reports 2019: Sport and Human Rights

December 29, 2019

Mary Harvey, CEO, the Centre for Sport and Human Rights

The 4th annual report 2019 I would like to mention comes in the form of a preface by Mary Harvey of Sports and Human Rights [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/12/12/mary-harvey-her-goal-is-now-human-rights/]

As my first year leading the Centre for Sport and Human Rights comes to a close, I wanted to reflect on some of what we have achieved in 2019 as we look ahead to where we need to make further progress in 2020. At the 2018 Sporting Chance Forum in Paris, I said we were at a point where the sport and human rights movement had been mobilised, and it was important to translate the theory of change behind the Centre’s creation into concrete action.

The opportunity to demonstrate this came sooner than expected. Prior to my start in January, many of our stakeholders raised the concerning case of the detainment and possible refoulement of refugee footballer Hakeem Al-Araibi, and rightly asked how the Centre was going to respond. My first week on the job, the Centre convened calls to bring together sports bodies, governments, IGOs, corporates, and civil society with the sole objective of freeing Hakeem. The combined efforts and collective action of the Centre, Advisory Council and others not only played an important role in freeing Hakeem, but provided a powerful and indelible example of what we can achieve together..

Building on the resources developed as part of the MSE Platform, our work in 2019 set out to put these tools into action, including by helping strengthen the capacity of those working most closely with sport. We developed new tools which are now with you for consultation (Games Time Risk Guide, Championing Human Rights into the Governance of Sports Bodies – annex specific to Multi-sport governing bodies). In September, we had the opportunity to deliver human rights training to the 53 national federations that make up the Commonwealth Sport family. We also engaged prospective bidding countries for the 2023 Women’s World Cup. Finally, we held briefing calls with our broadcaster stakeholders on human rights issues at events taking place in countries such as Azerbaijan, China and Saudi Arabia.

In May of this year, with the landmark decision from CAS ruling against Caster Semenya, it became clear that human rights awareness needed to be raised and capacity built for those who give legal advice to sports bodies. As part of our developing work on Remedy this year and to begin this important conversation, the Centre hosted a workshop for sports law practitioners with our colleagues at Clifford Chance. The event more than met expectations, with consistent feedback from attendees who welcomed debate on an important topic in need of serious engagement.  We are pleased that, with the support of colleagues at Clifford Chance, the workshop will be an annual event going forward.

We took our first steps during 2019 to work with partners in Africa by hosting a workshop in Rabat, Morocco which brought together a number of sports bodies and national human rights institutions from both anglophone and francophone countries on the continent. We took further steps in developing our Africa Strategy by hosting 16 African National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs) at an event in Rwanda to discuss child rights and remedy.

On children, the Centre expanded its own capacity by appointing our first senior thematic expert. Millions of children and young people take part in sporting activities every day across the world, and they have the right to participate in sport in a safe and enjoyable environment. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. One of the first actions the Centre took on child rights was to successfully lobby to ensure that references to sport were included in the Guidelines to Optional Protocol 2 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

——

More on Ozil and self censorship by western companies

December 20, 2019

deputy director of research at Chinese Human Rights Defenders) Arsenal player was right to speak up, and western companies should remember that staying silent is no guarantee of China’s favour. [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/12/16/china-arsenal-ozil-and-freedom-of-expression/]

Arsenal’s Mesut Ozil posted to his millions of social media fans about the persecution of Uighurs in China.
Arsenal’s Mesut Ozil posted to his millions of social media fans about the persecution of Uighurs in China. Photograph: Facundo Arrizabalaga/EPA

..Arsenal’s response has been a cynical attempt to placate government-manufactured outrage in the pursuit of profits over principles. Executives should remember that critical Chinese voices face detention and censorship. Following in the footsteps of many brands that adopted the Chinese Communist party (CCP) political stance, the club released a Chinese-language statement that “The content published is Özil’s personal opinion. As a football club, Arsenal has always adhered to the principle of not involving itself in politics.” The statement still does not appear on its English-language social media accounts or website.

As many NBA fans found out in October, when the Houston Rockets manager sparked a major crisis for briefly supporting the Hong Kong protestors, sports clubs are not prepared to stand up to the Chinese government for fear that it will shut down a significant source of revenue. Though global football institutions stayed silent when Uighur footballer Erfan Hezim was sent to an internment camp, they should not look away now that one of the sport’s most prominent players has forced the issue. China will host the 2021 Club World Cup and Xi Jinping has his eye on hosting the World Cup. Human rights abuses should not be swept under the rug.

No matter how much brands grovel to the Chinese government, they will always be vulnerable to nationalist sentiment inflamed by the Communist party that has tied its legitimacy on having led the country out of its “century of national humiliation”. Self-censorship is not a guarantee of protection for western brands and only exposes their hypocrisy to fans back home in democracies. Instead of falsely claiming they do not involve themselves in politics, Arsenal should use this opportunity to stand up for human rights.

https://www.theguardian.com/football/commentisfree/2019/dec/18/mesut-ozil-china-row-western-brands-be-warned-self-censorship-wont-protect-you

China, Arsenal, Ozil and freedom of expression…

December 16, 2019

On 16 December 2019 wrote in the Guardian “Craven Arsenal abandon Mesut Özil over his stance on China’s Uighur persecution“.  He argued that the midfielder is in tune with human rights groups over the imprisonment of millions of Uighurs but the club chose to raise a white flag. The incident touches on more than the freedom of expression of an individual player. ‘Sports washing’ (see earlier posts:  https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/sports-washing/) is a widespread phenomenon to which Arsenal itself in no stranger. It plays in the Emirates Stadium and in Emirates T-shirts (in a 280 million $ deal) without ever mentioning Ahmed Mansoor the UAE’s most prominent political prisoner [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/06/07/ahmed-mansoor-ten-years-jail-for-tweeting-and-a-street-named-after-you/]

A demonstrator in Istanbul holds up a picture of Arsenal’s Mesut Özil who expressed his horror at China’s treatment of the Uighurs.

On the Chinese social media site Weibo Arsenal quicly posted that Özil’s comments were merely his “personal opinion” and reminding that “Arsenal has always adhered to the principle of not involving itself in politics”. The article nicely quotes Simon Chadwick, a professor of sports enterprise at Salford University who specialises in China: “The world is in the midst of an ideological battle: western liberalism versus eastern authoritarianism. And sport is one of the front lines.”

Also saying it is just a personal opinion, seems a bit much:  Özil was entirely in tune with a United Nations panel and multiple human rights groups who have spoken out about the imprisonment of millions of Uighur people in internment camps without trial for “re-education” in what has been described as the largest incarceration of one ethnic group since the Holocaust, with multiple accounts of torture, rape and abuse from eyewitnesses who have passed through.

Celebrities have been criticised for NOT speaking out when they insist on touring human rights violating regimes (e.g. only last week Anthony Joshua was widely criticised for not speaking out about human rights in Saudi Arabia and Mariah Carey in July this year [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/07/10/nicki-minaj-did-the-right-thing-and-cancelled-her-performance-in-saudi-arabia/]. states” Yet can you blame sportspeople for staying quiet when they see Özil bravely raising his head above the parapet only to be shot down by his own club? As for Arsenal not involving themselves in politics, what did the club think they were doing when they agreed a £30m deal with the Rwandan government to promote tourism?

It would seem that what is ‘political’ is mostly determined by the sensitivity and power of the country being targeted. And in the case of China there is very little margin. Whether it is the according of awards to dissidents or accepting statements on Hong Kong by NBA officials [see more generally: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2012/12/06/china-and-its-amazing-sensitivity-on-human-rights-defenders/]. As stated: The decision by CCTV not to show Arsenal’s match against Manchester City is another reminder that there is no middle ground here. No way to stick up for human rights and free speech without angering China. You are either for such values or against them.

https://www.theguardian.com/football/2019/dec/16/arsenal-mesut-ozil-uighurs-china

Will Janet Jackson, 50 Cent and Tyga perform tomorrow in Jeddah and what will they say?

July 18, 2019

The Human Rights Foundation in New York continues its efforts to stop Saudi Arabia from using star power to shore up its reputation. Janet Jackson, 50 Cent, Future, Chris Brown, and Tyga are scheduled to perform at a concert on 18 July in Saudi Arabia. In a surprise, last-minute announcement, the Jeddah World Fest has added these high-profile performers to their concert, which is funded and authorized by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS), one of the world’s worst human rights violators. Last week, their top-performer, Nicki Minaj, publicly cancelled her performance in solidarity with the Saudi LGBTQ+ community, Saudi women, and the principle of freedom of expression. [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/07/10/nicki-minaj-did-the-right-thing-and-cancelled-her-performance-in-saudi-arabia/]

It’s clear that, after losing Nicki Minaj on the basis of the Saudi regime’s atrocious human rights record and their treatment of women and the gay community, the Crown Prince has chosen to spend whatever it takes to give the appearance that things are normal and that this is just another concert. Except it isn’t,” said Thor Halvorssen, president of the Human Rights Foundation (HRF). “It’s a blatant public relations push on the heels of the pre-meditated assassination of a Washington Post columnist and the ongoing imprisonment of dozens of human rights activists. Saudi is engaged in a sophisticated campaign of distraction. It’s baffling to the fans of Janet Jackson, 50 Cent, Liam Payne, and these other artists,  that despite knowing all of this, they still intend to perform. It’s profoundly distressing that they have chosen money over morals. These individuals constantly make public statements of support for LGBTQ+ rights, Black Lives Matter, and women’s rights, except, apparently, when a seven-figure check is attached. The hypocrisy is breathtaking. Principal apparently matters to them far more than principles.

HRF has written individually to each of these performers and explicitly referenced their previous positions on matters of women’s rights, LGBTQ+ rights, public policy, and police brutality. ..

The artists who are scheduled to perform in Saudia Arabia tomorrow have a long track record of supporting human rights causes:

  • In 2008, Janet Jackson received the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) Vanguard Award. In 2010, she partnered with the Trevor Project’s “It Gets Better” campaign to support an initiative to reduce suicide and promote mental health among LGBTQ+ youth. In 2017, she received Out Magazine’s Music Icon Award. She accepted the Icon Award at the 2018 Billboard Awards (and as the first black woman to do so) and stated: “Women have made it clear we will no longer be controlled, manipulated, or abused.”  That same year, after accepting the Global Icon award at the MTV Europe Music Awards, she said the world could no longer tolerate gender inequality. Jackson also voiced her concern for gender inequality at the 2018 Global Citizen Festival saying: “I’m sick, I’m repulsed, I’m infuriated by the double standards that continue to [put] women as second-class citizens. Enough!”
  • Tyga was outspoken when the artist A$AP Rocky was arrested in Sweden. On Twitter he promoted the hashtag #FREEASAPROCKY and even went so far as to cancel his scheduled performance there on July 14. To that end, why wouldn’t he use the hashtag #FREELOUJAIN and cancel his Saudi Arabia appearance in solidarity with the imprisoned artists and activists there?
  • Chris Brown publicly expressed his frustration about artists who fail to raise their voices in favor of positive change. Expressing support for the Black Lives Matter movement, he said: “I am asking all the celebrities and people with actual voices … how about we speak up right now and help people? Can our voices actually mean something? Please?”
  • In 2011, 50 Cent performed for the enjoyment of the family of Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi. The public outcry and embarrassment was slow in coming but when it came it compelled him to donate his dictatorial paycheck to UNICEF.

HRF believes that the participation of these artists in a festival sponsored by a murderous, repressive regime involved in gross human rights violations  — especially of women and sexual minorities — would be highly unfortunate and would send the message that dictatorial regimes can simply purchase the endorsements of high-profile celebrities while simultaneously discouraging those in the population seeking to bring about peaceful transformation. HRF hopes that these artists will stand up for human rights, women’s rights, and the rights of sexual minorities by being outspoken when they take the stage in Saudi Arabia tomorrow.

For the letters see: Janet Jackson; 50 Cent; Chris Brown; Tyga; and Future.

In the meantime, Saudi Arabia has also signed another big boxing match in its sports washing drive:

Amir Khan claims he and Manny Pacquiao have both signed up for a fight and is targeting a meeting in Riyad later this year with Amnesty International calling on the Briton to speak out on Saudi Arabia’s human rights issues. The 32-year-old says the pair have both agreed terms with Riyadh the venue for a long-awaited bout. Khan won the WBC international welterweight title with a fourth-round stoppage of Billy Dib in Jeddah on Friday night. Now he intends to return to Saudi Arabia on November 8 to face former sparring partner Pacquiao, if the Filipino comes through unscathed against Keith Thurman in their WBA welterweight title fight in Las Vegas this weekend.

https://mynbc15.com/news/entertainment/janet-jackson-50-cent-to-perform-at-saudi-arabia-concert

Saudi Arabia Spends Millions to Add Last-Minute Performers Janet Jackson, 50 Cent, and Others to the Jeddah “World Fest”

https://www.birminghammail.co.uk/sport/other-sport/amir-khan-manny-pacquiao-sign-16604847

Tour de France also used for sportswashing by Bahrain

July 8, 2019

Vincenzo Nibali riding for Bahrain-Merida in 2018.
Vincenzo Nibali riding for Bahrain-Merida in 2018. Ten campaign groups say the team are helping to draw attention from the country’s ‘appalling human rights record’. Photograph: Tim de Waele/Getty Images

in the Guardian of 3 July 2019 reports on the efforts by a group of NGOs to have the UCI, cycling’s governing body, look again at the license of the Bahrain-Merida cycling team.

In the letter, under the umbrella of the Sport and Rights Alliance and led by the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (Bird), the signatories claim that the team, led by the 2014 Tour winner Vincenzo Nibali, is a vehicle for the Bahrain government to “sportswash” its appalling human rights abuses. “The Bahraini government has a reputation for using high-profile sporting events to divert international attention from the country’s appalling human rights record,” the letter states, “and we are concerned that Bahrain-Merida’s participation in UCI competitions is consistent with these aims.” The letter alleges that the Bahrain-Merida team may be in violation of the UCI’s code of ethics, which requires participants to “show commitment to an ethical attitude”.

However, the signatories draw attention in their letter to the fact that the Bahrain-Merida team was launched in 2017 by a son of the ruling king of Bahrain, Sheikh Nasser bin Hamad al-Khalifa, who is still described as the team’s leader on its website. ..Sheikh Nasser is a senior figure in the country’s sports institutions, chairing the Olympic committee until March this year. In 2011 he called publicly, on television, for the punishment of sportspeople who had taken part in demonstrations, saying: “To everyone that demands the fall of the regime, may a wall fall on their heads … whether he is an athlete, an activist or a politician … Today is the judgment day.”  Also, several of the sponsors – which include the Bahrain sovereign wealth fund Mumtalakat and the oil company Bapco which itself says that it is wholly owned by the government – are described as “semi-government companies”.

For more on “Sportswashing” see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/05/22/andrew-anderson-the-dangerous-game-of-sportswashing/

A UCI spokesperson told the Guardian that it had been aware of the “allegations of human rights violations by the Bahrain regime … prior to the initial registration of Bahrain-Merida as a UCI WorldTeam late 2016.” The spokesperson did not explain what approach the UCI took to the human rights concerns, or why they were not a barrier to the team’s registration. He added: “For the upcoming season, the independent licence commission will review the applicable criteria, including ethical, based on all available information pertaining to the team. The assessment … concentrates on the team and its members.”

Sayed Alwadaei, the director of advocacy at Bird, described that as a “very disappointing” response. “We raised similar concerns in 2016 and despite the severity of our concerns the UCI awarded Bahrain-Merida team the WorldTeam licence,” he said. “We are asking the UCI now to be transparent about their due diligence and to disclose their assessment, as a rational assessment must account for a history of severe rights abuses.”

https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2019/jul/03/bahrain-merida-cycling-team-being-used-to-sportswash-campaigners-say

Sports and Politics: Minsk 2019 apes Baku 2015 and with similar results

June 17, 2019

Belarus news, Alexander Lukashenko, European Games 2019, European Games Minsk, European Games Baku, Belarus human rights, Belarus press freedom, sports and human rights, European Olympic Committee, corruption in sport

Minsk, Belarus, 05/09/2019 © Tricky_Shark / Shutterstock

The second edition of the European Games is set to kick off on June 21 2019 in Minsk, Belarus. Events covering 15 different sports, from archery to sambo, will be contested over nine days. The 10 disciplines recognized as Olympic sports are especially important because they serve as qualifications for Tokyo 2020. Belarus finds itself trying to oversee a successful international sporting event while at the same time dismissing condemnation of its domestic political situation.

International organizations such as the United Nations, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch routinely criticize the human rights conditions in Belarus. Actions such as peaceful protests and membership in opposition organizations are basically criminalized under Belarusian law. Access to websites critical of the government is routinely denied, and press freedom curtailed. To add to this, Belarus remains the last country in Europe to employ the death penalty. These issues once again have risen to the fore when Belarus was selected to host the European Games that are thought to represent a different political culture.

These views are echoed by Human Rights Watch, which strongly pushed the European Olympic Committees (EOC) for assurances that journalists can carry out their work unhindered during the games. For its part, the EOC states that it will appoint special observers to ensure press freedom, but critics contend this is not enough. Key questions remain about the conditions for journalists when the games are over, and whether the EOC will ensure action if serious issues arise. The German Olympic Sports Confederation (DOSB) went so far as to contemplate a boycott of the 2019 European Games. It was a half-hearted idea, as the DOSB viewed the maneuver as a last resort rather than an actionable response to the situation in Belarus. In the end, the requirement for athletes to achieve qualifications for the Tokyo Olympics quashed any sort of political activism.

Further, the Sports and Rights Alliance — a coalition of leading NGOs, sports organizations and trade unions — petitioned for positive advancements for Belorussian human rights prior to the commencement of this year’s games. It alleges that the EOC overlooks duties established in the Olympic Charter to protect human rights and dignity. At the recent Olympism in Action Forum, which focused on the relation of human rights and sport, David Grevemberg, chief executive of the Commonwealth Games Federation, stated that “You’re judged by the company you keep and what you stand for.”..

Azerbaijan hosted the first European Games in Baku in 2015. [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2015/06/12/baku-games-starting-today-with-avalanche-of-human-rights-criticism/] It is apparent that the past experience of 2015 had little effect on the EOC, and that the organization will not shift its mandate to accommodate the demands put forward by human rights defenders. Baku 2015 provides a template and numerous lessons for Minsk 2019. In the case that Minsk can put on a well-managed spectacle with memorable moments of sporting excellence, human rights concerns will not overshadow the Belarusian edition of the European Games.

.,… Lukashenko explained that “Visitors should get positive impressions of their stay in Belarus, in Minsk, and should take these impressions back home.” The president often refers to the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics and how the event improved opinions about Russia prior to the ensuing scandals linked to the Kremlin. Lukashenko knows there is a tough task ahead of him in regard to the human rights lobby and criticism of his strongman style of governance. However, the EOC’s president, Janez Kocijančič, firmly stated that any human rights concerns would not overshadow the competition, and that it is not in the dominion of the sports committee to influence domestic politics of host nations. This is a reaffirmation that sport is to be kept separate from politics and goes neatly along with Lukashenko’s retorts to criticism…

It is naive to believe that sport and politics are separate, as much as EOC and Belarusian officials insist on that principle. While the actual sporting activities are guided by apolitical rules, both the atmosphere and the message of large-scale events are inherently political. Hosting duties bring international scrutiny of human rights offences, while the country anticipates a public relations makeover. Both require diplomatic nuance and managed interactions with the regional community. Thus, levels of political involvement are apparent….

International sporting events held in countries with tainted human rights records often become lighting rods in the global community. It is of great importance to highlight these issues and to focus attention on states that regularly infringe upon basic freedoms. However, little perceptible success has been achieved by international NGOs advising boycotts or protective mechanisms by the umbrella organizations responsible for the events — in this case the EOC.

It is a difficult task to shift the development and implementation of a large-scale multidisciplinary event with a lot invested in its success on all sides. Campaigns need to expand their reach beyond those involved in the human rights movement who are already aware of calls to action. Social engagement must overcome the collective excitement over sport.

……

It seems that sport governing bodies struggle with achieving a balance between spectacle and sport. This issue will continue to complicate the relationship between athletics and politics, as liberal democracies balk at the cost of hosting such events, while states with debatable democratic records seek legitimacy from the international community. Sports diplomacy delivers this through soft power.

See on this tipic also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/02/01/sports-and-human-rights-focus-on-sports-washing-big-names-play-for-big-money/

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.

Belarus Understands the Diplomatic Power of Sport

Arsenal and Chelsea are not the only ones strugggling in Azerbaijan on 29 May

May 23, 2019

Baku’s Olympic Stadium is hosting the Europa League final between Arsenal and Chelsea Wednesday 29 May 2019 and is also the venue for four games in next year’s European Championship. I will certinaly watch the match but will keep in mind Amnesty International’s warning that we should not let Azerbaijan hide human rights abuses behind football.  Sports washing is a phenomenon that deserves more attention, see e.g.:

https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/02/01/sports-and-human-rights-focus-on-sports-washing-big-names-play-for-big-money/

https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/05/22/andrew-anderson-the-dangerous-game-of-sportswashing/

https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/12/03/fifas-second-report-on-human-rights-misses-sustainable-approach/

https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/sports-and-rights-alliance/

The decision to stage the Europa League final in Baku has drawn criticism from fans and human rights groups.
The decision to stage the Europa League final in Baku has drawn criticism from fans and human rights groups. Photograph: Robert Prezioso/Getty Images

We must ensure that Azerbaijan isn’t allowed to sportswash its appalling human rights record as a result of the football fanfare,” Amnesty International’s UK director, Kate Allen, said. “Azerbaijan is in the grip of a sinister human rights crackdown, with journalists, bloggers and human rights defenders being ruthlessly targeted. Unfair trials and smear campaigns remain commonplace.

LGBTI people have been arrested, and even people fleeing the country have been harassed and pressured to return. Fans, players and backroom staff can help prevent Azerbaijan’s likely attempt to sportswash its image by informing themselves about the human rights situation behind the glitzy facade of Wednesday’s match….All too often, governments are using high-profile sporting competitions to distract attention from repressive policies and human rights violations, to instead project an image of openness. This couldn’t be further from the truth with the current administration, and the Arsenal-Chelsea clash is just the latest reminder of this.”

https://www.theguardian.com/football/2019/may/22/amnesty-international-azerbaijan-human-rights-football