In Sochi, Russia, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon praised the power of sport to promote human rights and unite people regardless of their age, race, class, religious, ability, sex, sexual orientation or gender identity in a first of its kind address to the International Olympic Committee (IOC).
“We must all raise our voices against attacks on lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or intersex people,” Mr. Ban said as the first UN chief to address an IOC session. “We must oppose the arrests, imprisonments and discriminatory restrictions they face.”
Mr. Ban cited Principle 6 of the Olympic Charter which enshrines the IOC’s opposition to any form of discrimination. He added that the UN stands “strongly” behind its own ‘Free & Equal’ campaign and looks forward “to working with the IOC, Governments and other partners around the world to build societies of equality and tolerance.”
“Hatred of any kind must have no place in the 21st century,” the top UN official stressed, noting also the need to combat “ugly and hurtful racist displays at sporting matches.”
Speaking later to the press in Sochi alongside Thomas Bach, President of the IOC, Mr. Ban said that “the Olympics give us an opportunity to celebrate everyone’s right to compete on equal terms – no matter what they look like, where they come from or whom they love.”
Earlier the two men had taken part in the Olympic torch relay, with Mr. Ban receiving the flame from Mr. Bach on a bridge over the Sochi River. The flame will be nested tomorrow after its 65,000-kilometer (39,000-mile) route at the opening ceremony, attended by Mr. Ban.
In his remarks, the Secretary-General praised the increasingly strong and productive partnership between the UN and the IOC, with shared values of universality, solidarity and non-discrimination that make a “dynamic global duo.”
He noted the many UN agencies – including the office of his special advisor on sport and development, Wilfred Lemke – working directly with the IOC to advance the eight anti-poverty targets known as the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) ahead of the 2015 deadline, including efforts to combat AIDS and drug abuse, protect the environment and promote education.
In his speech to the IOC today, one day before the opening of the Games, Mr. Ban reiterated the UN’s call for the observance of the Olympic Truce, especially in Syria, South Sudan and the Central African Republic.
“Athletes send a unified message that people and nations can put aside their differences,” he said. “If they can do that in Sochi’s sporting arenas, leaders of fighters should do the same in the world’s combat areas.”
The symbolic Truce, which started one week before the XXII Olympic Winter Games, will run until a week after the closing of the XI Paralympic Winter Games, to be held 7 to 16 March.
Mr. Ban stressed the essential nature of the Paralympic Games to the Sochi Winter Games and highlighted how the Olympic Movement promotes human rights which include the rights of people with disabilities.
“I am one of millions of people inspired by those athletes,” he said.
“The Olympics have served to break down negative stereotypes and build positive attitudes,” he added. “I am pleased that the United Nations counts many Olympic athletes as champions of our causes – peace, development and human rights.”
In his remarks today, Mr. Ban said he appreciated President Vladimir Putin’s assurances that “there will be no discrimination whatsoever,” and that people with different sexual orientation are welcome to compete and enjoy the Olympic Games.