There are two scandals going on in world sport right now: the one you have heard about and the one that you haven’t.
The one rightly filling both the front and back pages of newspapers is that of FIFA and how a corrupt cabal have controlled world football for a generation.
The second scandal starts on Saturday, when the first ever “European Games” starts in Baku, the oil capital of Azerbaijan. Thousands of competitors from across Europe will compete in sports such as athletics, archery, beach volleyball, canoeing, cycling and gymnastics over a fortnight.
The event, held under the auspices of the European Olympic Committees, is the first of its kind. And just as people are beginning to question the morals and ethics of FIFA, so they too of the European Olympic Committees, because they too are tarring sport.
The Games are being held in a country whose government has been criticised for corruption and which has an appalling human rights record. The brutal regime is actively detaining critics of the government, whether it be activists, academics, journalists or human rights lawyers.
Currently there are an estimated 100 political prisoners in the country, including investigative journalist Khadija Ismayilova, whose detention has been widely condemned by governments and civil society groups.
Despite the appalling human rights record, one of the main sponsors of the Games is oil giant BP, which has billions of pounds invested in oil interests in the country. A prominent critic of the regime and BP’s activities in the country is the environmental arts organisation Platform, which is based in London.
For years Platform has doggedly tracked BP’s operations in the country, including the problems of its Baku-Ceyhan-Tblisi Pipeline, notably in the acclaimed book, The Oil Road.
On Friday, Platform will release a book, All that Glitters, which outlines the cozy relationship between BP and the Azerbaijan regime. Earlier this week, Emma Hughes from Platform flew to Baku to monitor the Games and human rights situation. She never made it past the airport. She was detained by the authorities, who informed her she was on a “red list” that barred her from entering the country.
In a sign of just how authoritarian the regime is, Amnesty International has been banned too.
Speaking before she was detained Hughes said: “These Oil Games are BP’s games. Their success will be BP’s success. They are using sport to blind the world to a horrific reality. Civil society has been stamped on hard in Baku. Journalists, lawyers, academics, writers and activists have all found themselves behind bars. And yet the games carry on regardless. The future of this country is imprisoned, yet BP still work hand in hand with this regime.”
The lesson from FIFA is that sport has to take a stand against corruption. But it also has to stand up for human rights and freedom. You cannot crush free speech and human rights on the one hand and then espouse the spirit of the Olympic movement and sporting competition on the other.
Indeed you could argue that Baku 2015 has got nothing to do with sport. Its all about using sport to cleanse Azerbaijan’s appalling human rights record.
Speaking at an event organised by The European Azerbaijan Society late last year in London, William Louis-Marie the Director of Communications for BEGOC- the Baku 2015 European Games Operations Committee – was brutally honest about what Baku 2015 was all about:
“Sport is a great vehicle to promote Azerbaijan” to help “root the country in Europe” he said. After Baku 2015, he added “All of a sudden you could think of the country in a different way. Sport can change the face of the country”.
If sport becomes a vehicle for the oppressors to carrying on oppressing, then it cannot be viewed as sport. Sportsmen and women and spectators should boycott Baku 2015 and make a stand against this oppressive regime.
Indeed there will be a demonstration outside BP’s London HQ on the morning of Friday 12 June at 8.30am and the Azerbaijani Embassy at 10am. Platform are asking for as many people as possible to attend.