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Christian Values | Helping Europe's last dictator ice the competition

Christian Wenande’s Danish/American background caters well to a city brimming with cultural diversity and strife. The CPH Post journalist loves life in Copenhagen but yearns for the indomitable mountains, rolling prairie and starry nights of his Wyoming sanctuary. N

May 10, 2014

by Christian Wenande

As I sat at Parken over the weekend sipping cold beer whilst watching a rather dull New Firm climax with a last-gasp equaliser that all but sent the Superliga title to Jutland, I wondered about the importance of sport.

For some it means nothing, and for others it’s a hobby or pastime. For the unfortunate it can be a matter of life and death. Literally.

If Sochi, why not Belarus?
As the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi drew near, politicians and pundits alike were gagging at the mouth to criticise Vladimir Putin and Russia’s hosting of the games, particularly in light of the anti-gay law that the nation passed. 

The entire Danish political spectrum were up in arms over the fact that the Winter Olympics were to be held in a country where human rights were so disregarded, corruption so rife and civil society so quashed. And rightfully so, says I.

Well, later this month, Belarus, whose leader Alexandar Lukashenko makes Putin look like Mother Teresa, is hosting the 2014 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championships, and I haven’t heard a peep from anyone.

Not from the politicians, the Danish ice hockey federation or the press. It’s a disgrace.

Over the past 20 years, Lukashenka – often referred to as the ‘last dictator in Europe’ – has imprisoned his political opponents, crushed the independent media, rigged elections and even changed the constitution to indefinitely maintain his place at the helm of Belarus.

And yeah, he is a massive ice hockey fan.

Sports authorities to blame
How long will governing sports bodies like the IIHF, FIFA and IOC continue to reward the injustices committed by Lukashenko and his ilk by granting them major sporting events that only serve to maintain their iron grip on their country and people.

Do they not comprehend that doing so legitimises regimes like his? 

It’s happened many times before – the 1978 World Cup in Argentina under the Jorge Videla dictatorship and the 2012 African Nations Cup, which was co-hosted by Equatorial Guinea, a country led by 35-year dictator Teodoro Mbasogo, are just two examples – and it will happen yet again this month when the puck drops at the ice hockey championships in Minsk. 

Isolation must be enforced
I contacted Belarussian journalist and editor-in-chief of the independent news site Charter 97, Natalia Radzina, who was beaten and imprisoned for “organising mass disorder” after covering the rigged presidential election in 2010 and the crackdown on the demonstrations that followed. 

Radzina, who won the International Press Freedom Award in 2011 after fleeing Belarus to Lithuania in order to continue running Charter 97 from there, told me that:

“The European states must support the political isolation of the Belarusian regime. This means no contact with the dictatorship while there is repression in the country.

The Belarusian regime is very cruel and it acts very brutally. It crushes any protest in the country. Without the solidarity of the world we can't beat the dictatorship.” 

Well, sorry Radzina, but even in Denmark – a supposed champion of human rights – that archaic and totalitarian leader-favouring saying “There is no place for politics in the world of sports” continues to ring true.

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