On the eve of the opening ceremony for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, it is hard to think of a positive news story over the last month. Between homophobia, unfinished hotels, terror threats, stray dogs and dangerous snowboard half pipes, it has been a tough buildup to Sochi 2014. Ban Ki-Moon arrives in Sochi today to carry the Olympic torch and meet with Russian President, Vladimir Putin ahead of attending the opening ceremony. Many Western leaders have, for one reason or another, decided against attending the grand opening which takes place tomorrow. This could be seen as politically motivated; perhaps it is, but the Winter Olympics is not as mandatory to attend as its summer equivalent would be.
Ban Ki-Moon has arrived in Russia with a single message to spread. That sport is a great unifier. The Olympic movement is perhaps the biggest embodiment of this and it is vital that its important message is not lost. He praised the power of sport to “promote human rights and unite people regardless of their age, race, class, religion, ability, sex, sexual orientation or gender identity.” Ban didn’t explicitly mention Russia’s new laws on Gay propaganda, but he did hit out against discrimination and hatred of any kind. Mr. Ban said that the “Olympics gives us an opportunity to celebrate everyone’s right to compete on equal terms, no matter where they come from or whom they love.” The Secretary-General concluded his remarks saying that he appreciated President Putin’s assurances that there will be “no discrimination whatsoever” at the Sochi Olympics.
Mr. Ban also used the global stage afforded to him by an Olympic audience to call for an “Olympic Truce”. He called on the warring sides in conflicts in Syria, South Sudan and the Central African Republic to “lay down their weapons” for the duration of the Olympic games to allow for the humanitarian agencies to reach those most in need and improve the chances of dialogue between the political leaders involved.
Here’s hoping for a safe and progressive games with the athletes, and their extraordinary dedication and commitment to their craft, making the headlines. It would be an added bonus if Mr. Ban’s sentiments could echo around the world bringing positive change via the Olympic message.
Post by UNAC-Vancouver writer Barry Hynes.