IOC says Right to Play not welcomed at Olympics
The Canadian Press
Published Thursday, January 22, 2009 7:31AM EST
Last Updated Friday, May 18, 2012 10:02PM EDT
The international humanitarian organization Right to Play has been told by the International Olympic Committee it is not welcomed at the Vancouver 2010 Winter Games, or future Olympics.
Johann Koss, president and chief executive officer for Right to Play, learned of the IOC's decision in a Dec. 23 letter.
"My understanding of this letter is we can not be involved in any of the Olympic venues or the Olympic village," Koss told The Canadian Press in an interview from Toronto.
The ban will continue for the 2012 Summer Olympics in London and the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, Russia.
"My understanding, based on this letter, is we are excluded from future Olympics as well," said Koss, a four-time Olympic gold medallist in speedskating.
The IOC gave no reason for the ban.
"The letter does not explain why they no longer will work with us," Koss said. "It started with a VANOC issue and it has escalated to the IOC."
An e-mail sent to the IOC was not immediately answered.
Koss isn't sure if the ban prevents him from entering the village or other Olympic venues in Vancouver.
"Personally, I have no issues if they exclude me or not," he said. "If that is their decision, I don't really worry about that.
"I do worry that the athletes will not have the opportunity to be exposed to what they can do as role models in this world to create a better world."
Right to Play uses sport and play programs to improve health, develop life skills and foster peace for children and communities in some of the world's most disadvantaged areas. The group's headquarters is located in Toronto and it works in 23 countries.
The list of athletes supporting the program include swimmers Janet Evans of the U.S. and Ian Thorpe of Australia, German speedskater Anni Friesinger, Swedish skier Anja Paerson and NHL star Alexander Ovechkin.
Canadians include such Olympic medallists as Jennifer Heil, Clara Hughes, Brad Gushue and Adam van Koeverden, plus NHL players like Joe Thornton and Robyn Regehr.
Right to Play began as a group called Olympic Aid at the 1994 Winter Games in Lillehammer, Norway. It has set up in Olympic athlete villages since the 2000 Sydney Games.
In October, the Vancouver Olympic Games Organizing Committee said Right to Play would not be allowed in the 2010 athletes village because its sponsors are not the same as those for the Vancouver Olympics.
Koss said his organization tried to reach a compromise.
"After the initial discussion with VANOC and the IOC, we did present to them a way where we could work together," he said. "I did not get a response from that. That was five months ago.
"Since then we had not heard anything before I received this letter."
The situation has left Koss disappointed.
"We had such a successful partnership in Beijing in the athletes village," he said. "When it started with the problems Vancouver was presenting in the fall, I'm not surprised this is the situation now."
Even with the ban, Right to Play plans on being in Vancouver.
"We will be there and have a presence, just not an official presence with the IOC or with the Olympic organizing committee," Koss said.
He doesn't know if not being allowed in the Olympic village will hurt the organization's ability to recruit more athletes.
"I hope not," Koss said. "We have a large number of athletes who are supporting Right to Play.
"They are themselves engaged in recruiting other athletes."
The IOC's website says one of the goals of the Olympic movement is to build a peaceful and better world by educating youth through sport practised without discrimination of any kind.
Koss hesitated when asked if by banning Right to Play, the IOC was violating its own goals.
"I don't want to comment necessarily on the IOC's decision," he said. "We have grown out of the Olympic organizing committee and the Olympic movement.
"This is our history and this is where we belong. I don't want to speculate on the issue and the decision made by the IOC."