Neelie KROES
Vice-President of the European Commission

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Fair Play – my blog on the Sochi Winter Olympics

Until a few years ago, I used to ice skate in the winter – when it was cold enough. Making beautiful trips across the ice of frozen lakes, gliding amid the beautiful Dutch landscape. Ice skating has an enchanting, and also somewhat addictive effect. Even on TV. So, over the next few days I will be fascinated, watching the Olympic team perform in Sochi, Russia. Indeed, the Netherlands is one of the top countries in ice skating. Over and over again, great talents arise, both men and women. Rainbow flag at Sochi Olympics

For years, international sports events have been seen in the political context of the organising country. Whether it's the football World Cup in Argentina in the 70s, the Beijing Olympics a few years ago, or now Russia. And rightly so: you can’t just pretend nothing is wrong when the freedom of the press is at stake, and the opposition silenced—or worse. Where pop stars that criticise their head of state from the altar are sent straight to a Siberian labour camp for three years. Where a demonstrating Greenpeace crew are treated like pirates. Or where there are prosecutions or beatings, just for coming out as gay. Sometimes you wonder who does still fit in.

Ignoring the situation would, for me, give a bitter taste to such a fantastic event. Of course, athletes have trained their whole lives, and put everything else aside, to break records. And we can all take something from that. At the same time, the government leaders use the event to to profile their country in the very best way. In front of the eyes of the world. And that also gives an opportunity to the press and viewers to take a look at key issues: like human rights.

I sometimes hear that ‘sport and politics cannot be reconciled’. What nonsense. If sport can be reconciled with commerce, it can be reconciled with human rights. Fair play is a key issue in sports; the red card was invented to deal with bad behaviour. It all depends on what you want to see and where you want to take responsibility.

So, over the coming days, it is important that — not just political delegations — but also companies stand up for human rights and point out that this anti-gay legislation is untenable: if you have influence, you should use it. And obviously we all hope that athletes like Sanne van Kerkhof or Anastacia Bucsis win some gold medals. Let's see whether President Putin shakes them warmly by the hand at the ceremony.

(This blog also appeared - in Dutch - in the Newspaper Het Financieele Dagblad)

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  • The red card is not for dealing with bad behavior, it's a card and all it does is being a signal. And what we 'the people' see is our democratically appointed referees letting the game play on, red card after red card after red card, driven by the 'hunger for the sport' which overshadows the respect for the human rights of the players. No well minded referee keeps the game going while blood is shed by the players just so he can talk to the coaches about it. Really 'dealing with bad behavior' is what the people outside the Olympics compound are doing, getting beat up because they refuse to hide who they are. http://www.upworthy.com/here-is-the-shocking-footage-of-gay-men-being-be...
  • I fully agree! Well said. And grateful that Ban Ki-moon openly addressed this as well. Pretending that enough has been said about this in the media and politics and only focus on the sports from now on, would be pure hypocrisy. Human rights have to come first, always, no matter the economical or political consequences.
  • Thank you for putting this out there. Also, let's not forget about the 2,000+ dogs that were/are going to be eliminated Nazi style because they were strays. Well people of Russia--please think of your dogs as your children. And unless you put your children on the streets when you get tired of them or can't afford them anymore, dogs deserve a humane life. My God, how do we end up showcasing trained athletes who compete in earnest in a country where the water is undrinkable, government peepholes are everywhere, and after having 7 years prep time for this event, Sochi is nowhere near ready for this huge public event. Let's not even talk about the homophobic issues. As Neeli Kros says: 'an opportunity to the press and viewers to take a look at key issues: like human rights.' All rights...
  • While I will say that I will certainly not be watching this farce because of the disgusting feudal posturing of Russia's psychopathic leaders, I have to pint out that this week, in my won country, it's happening here as well. http://youtu.be/WXayhUzWnl0
  • And not to forget all the former inhabitants of Sochi who had to move out and saw their house being demolished, because the city had to be rebuilt to accomodate this event...

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