Thomas Bach

Thomas Bach

Human Rights Watch has urged the new International Olympic Committee (IOC) president, Thomas Bach, to enforce the human rights principles enshrined in the Olympic Charter.

On Tuesday, Bach took over from Jacques Rogge, whose 12-year tenure as IOC president was marred, said Human Rights Watch, by choosing host countries that have flouted the IOC’s own requirements for non-discrimination and press freedom.

“The serious – and preventable – human rights violations during the 2008 Beijing Games and the ongoing abuses in Russia ahead of the 2014 Sochi Games highlight the need for an IOC leader with the vision to put human rights reforms in place and the will to enforce them,” said Minky Worden, director of global initiatives at Human Rights Watch.

The Sochi Winter Games, set for next year February, have been mired in controversy over Russia’s recently enacted ‘gay propaganda law’.

Human Rights Watch said that the June 2013 anti-gay law “blatantly violates the Olympic principle of non-discrimination and curtails the rights of athletes, sponsors, journalists, and spectators, as well as other Russian citizens and foreign visitors to free expression and equal treatment”.

The IOC has refused to press Russia to repeal the law. It has only sought and received “assurances” from the Russian authorities that Sochi Games participants would not face discrimination.

“When athletes break the rules in Olympic competitions, they are harshly sanctioned,” Worden said. “When host countries flout the rules, the IOC should speak up, rather than declaring itself helpless to take action.”

Bach, in his new role as IOC president, should adopt a principled approach to upholding the Olympic Charter, Human Rights Watch said.

This should include establishing an IOC standing committee to monitor human rights. The IOC should also ensure that future host countries have to meet benchmarks for compliance with human rights principles and the Olympic Charter, as they already do for the quality of ski jumps or swimming pools.

“In Olympic sporting events – or even after-school soccer – the governing principle is that everyone has to play by the rules,” Worden said. “When China and Russia broke the rules under Rogge’s watch, there was no sanction, setting up a dangerous double standard for host countries. Bach has an opportunity to set his stamp on the IOC presidency by making it clear that countries who win the right to host the Olympics should meet its high standards.”

Human Rights Watch called on the IOC and President Bach to defend three basic principles featured in the Olympic Charter: The principle of human dignity; the principle of non-discrimination; and the principle of media freedom.

“Jacques Rogge repeatedly said during his tenure at the helm of the IOC that the Olympics are a ‘force for good,’” Worden said. “His successor, Thomas Bach, by focusing on the human rights implications of both Summer and Winter Games, can transform these lofty words into reality.”


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