The British head of the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) has been heavily criticised after suggesting that future hosts of the Olympic and Paralympic Games should not be judged on their countries’ human rights standards.
Sir Philip Craven told a journalist from the US news agency Associated Press (AP) – during this month’s Paralympic Winter Games in Sochi, Russia – that the decision to choose future hosts should only emphasise the athletes’ experience.
He was responding to demands from a coalition of human rights organisations – including Stonewall, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch – that the International Olympic Committee (IOC) should ensure future host countries do not introduce laws that violate human rights.
They also want IOC contracts with host cities to include human rights pledges.
But Sir Philip told AP that because there were so many things that could be taken into account when choosing a host country – a process based on the votes of individual IOC delegates – that different areas should not be emphasised.
He added: “I don’t think we necessarily need to emphasise certain different areas, except one, and that is sport: the athletes.”
Sir Philip did say that he wanted to see “all citizens being treated equally”, but he made it clear that it was not IPC’s role to criticise Russia for introducing new laws last year that effectively make it illegal to hold a public gay rights event, or speak out in favour of gay rights.
But Andrea Mazzarino, a disability rights researcher at US-based Human Rights Watch, said: “Craven’s comments seem to totally ignore the IPC’s own principles.
“The IPC must require host cities to work toward an accessible environment. This is a human rights issue that the IPC itself has said should be factored into its selection of host cities.”
She added: “One of the IPC’s core commitments is to leave a positive legacy of inclusion and accessibility in the host country. This is why human rights issues are also crucial in the selection of a host city.”
Human Rights Watch said the case of Russia was “a strong example of why the IPC should emphasize human rights issues throughout the preparations for and during the Paralympic Games”.
Dr Ju Gosling, co-chair of Regard, the national organisation for disabled LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) people, said Sir Philip’s comments had been “disappointing”.
She said: “To me, the whole point of the games is about people coming together in friendship. It’s not about the sport, it’s about people coming together from all over the world and putting aside their differences.
“The Paralympics have got human rights absolutely at the core because they are all about disabled people having access to sporting excellence.
“I really don’t see how you can separate the two. It’s all about people having human value. It’s about the right of everybody to be valued equally.
“How can you then take that to a country where a whole group of people are being denied those rights purely on the basis of who they are?”
She said it would have been “extraordinarily difficult” for a gay athlete to compete in the kind of anti-gay rights atmosphere they would have experienced in Sochi.
And she said that she and her partner, Julie Newman, the acting chair of UK Disabled People’s Council, would have seriously considered attending the Paralympics in Sochi if Russia had not created such a hostile atmosphere for LGBT people.
Gosling said that if Sir Philip had been “an out gay man with a husband”, he would have found it “very difficult to do his job” in Sochi.
Human rights should be one of the factors involved in deciding where a Paralympic games takes place, she said, and in fact should be “a deal-breaker” because athletes could not be expected to compete properly in a country where their human rights were not respected.
The IPC has declined to comment.
It is not the first time that Sir Philip has annoyed disabled activists.
In 2012, before the London 2012 Paralympic Games, he described Atos – the company that has drawn heavy criticism over the “fitness for work” tests it conducts on behalf of the government – as a “top sponsor” of the IPC.
The previous year, he said that he objected to the use of the word “disabled” to describe someone, and that he would “definitely not” describe himself as a disabled person, even though he is a wheelchair-user.
19 March 2014