This week an appeal was sent to the national ice hockey federations of all those countries participating in the world cup of 2014. The event is scheduled to take place in Belarus, but in light of on-going human rights violations in the country, the appeal calls on participating nations to move the championship to another host state.
The signatories who include activists, politicians and artists are calling on members of the IIHF congress to read the appeal and discuss this issue at the International Ice Hockey Federation congress that meets in Helsinki this week. The organisation’s Communications Director, Szymon Szemberg, has informed Free Belarus Now that participating nations will have the opportunity to discuss the suitability of Belarus at that meeting.
The text of the appeal read:
To all members of the IIHF including the council of the IIHF and participants of the IIHF Congress,
May 16th 2011
Appeal to the International Ice Hockey Federation Congress
Dear Members of Congress,
Our campaign to relocate the Ice Hockey World Championship 2014 from Belarus was initiated on 21st December 2010 following a brutal crackdown on thousands of peaceful demonstrators in Minsk, at that time there were only 8 signatories. Today hundreds of thousands have joined our campaign in numerous countries throughout Europe and beyond. Our supporters include politicians, sports personalities and celebrities as well as members of the general public.
The Lukashenko regime has been condemned around the world, including a unanimous US Senate resolution, European Parliamentary resolution and recently in US Law. The Belarus Democracy and Human Rights Act was signed by President Obama in January. The ordinary people represented by the MP’s, MEP’s and Senators who have unanimously voted for these resolutions number nearly a Billion.
But we wish to make clear to International Ice Hockey Federation that our request to have the World Ice Hockey Championship moved out of Belarus to an alternative location is not a political one. The late President Vaclav Havel supported this campaign until his death last year – it was always clear to him that this decision must be a moral one, and not obfuscated by rules and regulations created to cover a weakness in human nature.
Anyone who even mildly opposes the Belarusian authorities is put at risk; Sportsmen are not immune from this. The Olympic charter also says “Every individual must have the possibility of practicing sport, without discrimination of any kind”. This is not true inBelarus, discrimination against anyone exercising their rights to freedom of speech and expression faces serious discrimination. Sportsmen and women are forced to compromise their human rights to compete in any competition, including yours.
Sport is a universal language and a uniting force that crosses racial, cultural and class divides. It must do what it can to protect the people it unites. The Olympic charter itself says “The goal of Olympism is to place sport at the service of the harmonious development of humankind, with a view to promoting a peaceful society concerned with the preservation of human dignity.” There is no such dignity in Belarus. If the 2014 World Ice Hockey Championships are held in Belarus, the International Ice Hockey Federation will be seen to be condoning the human rights abuses inflicted on the Belarusian people and supporting, morally and financially, the Lukashenko regime.
We however do not wish to deprive the people of Belarus who have suffered so much already of the joy of being part of your event. We will campaign for visa charges to be waved for Belarusians if the championship is relocated and do all that we can to find ways to reduce their costs.
We are appealing to you on behalf of all those who have been tortured and abused by the Belarusian authorities, and those who continue to be held in unspeakable conditions for simply demanding their human rights be observed. We find the fundamental Olympic principle that “Olympism seeks to create a way of life based on the joy of effort, the educational value of good example, social responsibility and respect for universal fundamental ethical principles” admirable. We hope that you will be guided by this when you make your decision and satisfy legitimate demands of people from all over the world.
Sir Tom Stoppard
Natalia Kaliada, Political Refugee, Co-Founder of the Belarus Free Theatre
Nikolai Khalezin, Political Refugee, Co-Founder of the Belarus Free Theatre
Sarunas Marculenis, NBA
Bruce Jackson, PTD
Irina Krasovskaya, wife of kidnapped and murdered political and public figure Anatoly Krasovsky and President of We Remember Foundation
Irina Bogdanova, sister of former Prisoner of Conscience Andrei Sannikov and Founder of Free Belarus Now