The Winter Olympics starts February 7
The UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, on Thursday in a speech to the International Olympic Committee, IOC, in Sochi called on warring parties around the world to cease hostilities during the winter Olympics.
Mr. Ki-Moon cited conflicts in Syria, South Sudan and the Central African Republic. He urged all warring parties to lay down their weapons during the Games and lift their sights to the promise of speech.
“Today I am in Sochi to witness countries uniting in a spirit of friendly competition and goodwill,” he said.
A statement by the IOC said it was the first time that a UN secretary-general will attend an IOC session ahead of the Winter Olympic Games.
It said Mr. Ki-moon praised the joint efforts of the UN and the IOC in using sports as a tool for social change, describing the two organisations as teammates.
“We are joining our forces together for our shared ideals; sustainability, universality, solidarity, non-discrimination and the fundamental equality of all people,” Mr. Ki-moon said.
There have been growing concerns over the increase in terrorist attacks in Russia, with the Winter Games starting February 7.
Mr. Ki-moon appealed to aggrieved parties to lift their sights to the promise of peace and follow the example set by the Olympic Winter Games.
“The athletes here carry the flags of different nations but they are all joining under the banner of equality, fair play, understanding and mutual respect. Their histories, traditions and day-to-day lives offer a wonderful parade of human diversity. And the athletes send a unified message that people and nations can put aside their differences. If they can do that in Sochi’s sporting arenas, leaders of fighters should do the same in the world’s combat areas,” Mr. Ki-Moon said.
A call against homophobia
Mr. Ki-Moon also raised the subject of human rights and efforts to combat racial and sexual discrimination.
He said rights groups and Western politicians have criticised Russia for promoting homophobia with a law signed by President Vladimir Putin in 2013 that banned homosexual propaganda among minors.
Mr. Ki-Moon said now many professional athletes, gay and straight, were speaking out against prejudice. He asked that voices be raised against attacks on lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or intersex people, adding that the arrest, imprisonments and discriminatory restrictions they face must be stopped.
The IOC President, Thomas Bach, according to the statement, called Mr. Ki-moon a great friend of sport and an inspiring world leader who stood for the same values the IOC was embracing.
The statement added that Mr. Bach said sports stood for respect and against any form of discrimination and that Olympic principles are UN principles.
Mr. Ki-moon is expected to tour the Olympic Village, where he will sign the Olympic Truce Wall and later attend the Opening Ceremony of Sochi 2014.
U.S. advise caution
Meanwhile, the U.S. Government has warned American and some other foreign airlines connecting to Russia during the Olympics to watch out for toothpaste tubes, as it could be used to conceal materials to build a bomb aboard an airplane.
The U.S. Homeland Security Department declined to elaborate on the warning, but stressed that it regularly shared relevant information with airlines, including those involved in international events like the Winter Olympics.
A congressman, Peter King, and member of the Homeland Security committee in the House of Representatives, said his committee was briefed about the threat. He said the committee was convinced that security was tight within the Olympics grounds in Sochi.
Mr. King stressed that getting to the venue and its surrounding areas was the real cause for concern.
“I don’t think it’s worth the risk of going,” he said.
The U.S. Secretary of State, John Kerry, said that the U.S. has 140 personnel, including FBI, military and embassy staff working under one roof with the Russians. He said there must be commonsense precautions and anybody who wanted to go was free to.
“It will be as safe as you can make any public event in a place where we know there have been some threats of late,” he said.