Baku games are human rights 'whitewash' attempt by Azerbaijan government

Written by Ulrike Lunacek on 17 June 2015 in Opinion

Ulrike Lunacek says the 2015 Baku games are an attempt by the Azerbaijani government to bolster its reputation following a crackdown on political dissidents.

It's not just the Fifa scandal, which is throwing dark shadows on the sports world. At the moment of writing this article the Baku games are taking place in Azerbaijan, product of an profitable cooperation between one more autocratic regime and - in this case - the European Olympic committee (EOC).

By hosting the first-ever European games in Baku the Azeri government is trying to 'whitewash' the country's reputation in the wake of an unprecedented crackdown on political dissidents.

Sports should be a uniting and not a divisive issue, sportswomen and men should be able to enjoy not just the tournaments but also the country the event is held in, and citizens of the country should be able to enjoy the excitement, fun and successes of such competition. There shouldn't be a dark shadow looming over the event, as is the case with the Baku games.


There are several dozen political prisoners in Azerbaijan, including Sakharov prize finalist Leyla Yunus, who are being held on spurious grounds. Many more journalists, campaigners and activists have also been subject to harassment and censorship.

In response to increasing criticism about the human rights situation in the run-up to the games and the lack of adequate response from the European Olympic committee, the argument from the committee has simply been, "It is not the EOC's place to challenge or pass judgment on the legal or political processes of a sovereign nation."

I object to this assertion - human rights are universal. The time of 'non-interference in national affairs' when it comes to human rights violations is definitely over. The Azeri government's human rights abuses contradict the principles enshrined in the Olympic charter - for example, on sport's role in advancing human dignity and placing "sport at the service of the harmonious development of humankind".

Therefore I and MEPs from all political groups in the European parliament have demanded that politicians from EU institutions and member states not attend the opening and other ceremonies of these European Olympic games, with a few of them following our call.

This Baku situation - like the dubious decisions to award the Olympic games to China (Bejing) or Russia (Sochi) or World Cups to Russia (2018) and Qatar (2022) - must lead to a fundamental transformation of the allocation process.

Human rights bodies should index and assess social and human rights standards including freedom of the press and assess the impact of holding such an event on human rights in the country. The fulfilment of human rights and labour rights by a country must be a fundamental criterion for awarding any tournament in the future.

Then, and only then, will big sports events truly contribute to 'advancing human dignity and placing sport at the service of the harmonious development of humankind', one of the principles enshrined in the Olympic charter.


About the author

Ulrike Lunacek (Greens/European Free Alliance, Austria) is a vice-president of the European parliament

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