Sport Executive Juni 2015

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Europe will salute its athletes in June at the first European Games - a salute shadowed by Azerbaijan’s crackdown on human rights defenders. BY LARS ANDERSSON, TEAM TEKSTWERK European sport has to make its mark. Like every other continent, it wants to celebrate and promote its heroes on the sporting field. That is why, back in 2012, the European Olympic Committees decided to create a new event, the European Games, where 6,000 athletes from 50 countries vie for international glory in 20 sports. On 12 June, the first European Games will be launched in Baku, Azerbaijan, a country situated at the crossroads of Eastern Europe and Western Asia and ruled by Ilham Aliyev. At last presidential election Aliyev received 85 percent of the votes – a stark reminder of the country’s past as a Soviet Republic. And for years the Azerbaijani government has had a poor human rights record with around 100 political prisoners, no freedom of the press, massive corruption and fixed elections. SWEEPING CRACKDOWN Or as Human Rights Watch summarizes it in ‘Tightening the Screws’ and its ‘World Report 2015’: “Azerbaijan’s record on freedom of expression, assembly, and association has been on a steady decline for some years, but it has seen a dramatic deterioration since mid-2012. Since then the government has been engaged in a concerted effort to curtail opposition political activity, punish public allegations of cor-



ruption and other criticism of government practices, and exercise greater control over nongovernmental organizations. It has done so by arresting and imprisoning political activists on bogus charges, adopting restrictive legislative amendments, consistently breaking up public demonstrations in the capital, and failing in its duty to investigate and punish those responsible for violent attacks and smear campaigns against critical journalists.” Jane Buchanan, director of the European and Central Asia Division in Human Rights Watch, offers a similar description of the political situation in Azerbaijan: “The Azerbaijan government tolerates little criticism and has gradually closed the space for independent voices over the last several years. In the last year alone, it has undertaken a sweeping crackdown on human rights defenders and journalists, detaining and imprisoned dozens on fabricated, but very serious, criminal charges, including treason, financial crimes, narcotics possession, etc. Many other journalists and activist have fled the country or gone into hiding.” “The authorities have also shut down the work of many independent organizations by raiding them and closing them and by freezing organisations bank accounts and bank accounts of their directors. The authorities have also put in place a series of

laws that make it impossible for independent groups to receive funding.” NO POLITICS HERE Despite the above allegations – and despite a regime that is, at best, on the edge of democracy – will Azerbaijan be the place where Europe will salutes its athletes. And the decision to host the Games there is something the European Olympic Committees (EOC) is completely satisfied with: “The EOC will not seek to impose any political agenda on a sovereign state or society. However, we have sought and received the assurance from the authorities in Azerbaijan that the principles of the Olympic Charter will be protected throughout the European Games in June,” Patrick Hickey, EOC’s president, says to Sport Executive. “Azerbaijan made a compelling pledge to the EOC to host the inaugural European Games back in 2012. Their hosting concept was innovative and technically excellent and they offered an assurance that all Games infrastructure would be ready on time and delivered to the highest international standards, with strong legacy plans to elevate sport in the region. These was the only criteria the EOC considered when selecting Baku as the host city of the European Games because they are