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Paralympics chief: No need for human rights assurances from host countries

Tuesday, March 11, 2014
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Alexei Nikolsky, AP Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, shakes hands with International Paralympic Committee President Philip Craven while visiting city facilities in Sochi, Russia, Friday, March 7, 2014. The opening ceremony of the 2014 Winter Paralympics is held in Sochi on Friday.

Alexei Nikolsky, AP
Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, shakes hands with International Paralympic Committee President Philip Craven while visiting city facilities in Sochi, Russia, Friday, March 7, 2014. The opening ceremony of the 2014 Winter Paralympics is held in Sochi on Friday.

SOCHI, Russia — Countries bidding to host the Olympics and Paralympics should not be compelled to provide assurances about human rights standards, according to the head of the International Paralympic Committee.

The buildup to the Olympics and Paralympics in Sochi saw rights groups protesting the Russian law banning so-called gay “propaganda” among minors. A coalition of human rights groups called on the International Olympic Committee to require future host nations to commit to not introduce laws that would violate human rights.

IPC President Philip Craven, who is also a voting member of the IOC, believes it is hard to spell out which rights a country must adhere to.

“There are so many things that could, maybe should be taken into account,” Craven said in an interview with The Associated Press at the Winter Paralympics in Sochi. “I think you have to remember the way the city, and therefore the country, is selected by a group of individuals … each individual can be affected by different things.

“You have to leave it to them to talk about a number of different issues. I don’t think we necessarily need to emphasize certain different areas, expect one and that is sport — the athletes.”

At the same time, Craven emphasizes a desire to see “all citizens being treated equally.”

The coalition of groups — including Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and the Human Rights Campaign — urged the IOC last month to amend the Olympic charter to specify that its condemnation of discrimination extends to discrimination based on sexual orientation and sexual identity.

Sports leaders have steered clear of condemning the Russian hosts of the Sochi Olympics and Paralympics.

“That is not our specialism. That is not something we get involved with — we have too much on our plate elsewhere,” Craven said.

“Of course we respect what people would demand, organizations involved with that and we observe what’s going on but we are about sport,” he added. “But if the performances of our athletes change perceptions relative to people with an impairment, automatically that can have a further changing effect on people’s thoughts and people’s processes.”

The Sochi Paralympics have sold more than 300,000 tickets so far, exceeding the 230,000 at the 2010 Vancouver Games, and 76 countries and territories are broadcasting the action.

“We got on the launch pad in Beijing (in 2008) but we took off in London (in 2012) and it’s wonderful,” Craven said. “Financially down the road it gets everyone so much more excited and interested.”

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