Pat Hickey, the president of the European Olympic Committees (EOC), told AFP that the presence of Azerbaijan’s bitter enemies Armenia at the inaugural European Games next month demonstrates how sport can give a lead to politicians.
However, the Irishman said there are also limits and while he has raised the thorny issue of Azerbaijan’s poor human rights record with the government he added the EOC had no right to interfere in a sovereign state’s affairs.
Hickey, who was the driving force behind the European Games and will see his brainchild become reality at the June 12 opening ceremony, says the fact he managed, aided by International Olympic Committee (IOC) president Thomas Bach, to persuade the Armenians to compete in Baku was a considerable diplomatic feat.
“Lots of people like to focus on the negatives, but for me there is a huge positive,” Hickey told AFP by phone from Dublin.
“We have done a remarkable thing in getting Armenia to agree to compete and Azerbaijan to welcoming them to the Games.
“I flew to Yerevan last year and was very ably assisted by Thomas Bach in persuading them to come.
“It is living proof that sport is ahead of the politicians in areas such as that.
“I was paid a huge compliment for achieving this the other day by a female MEP (Member of the European Parliament) who said she had tried over the past two years to get representatives from both countries to meet together in her office and they won’t even do that.
“For Armenia to be at the Games is a great win-win for sport.”
Hickey, a member of the elite Executive Board of the IOC for the past three years, has been criticised — he was the unlikely target of a recent New York Times editiorial — for having allowed the Games be hosted by Azerbaijan.
“We do what we can behind the scenes,” said the Irishman.
“But at the end of the day we are a sporting body and we haven’t the right to interfere with a sovereign state’s affairs.
“We have met with a Human Rights Watch (HRW) delegation that visited us in Dublin and we went in front of the European Parliament in Brussels last week.
“We listen very carefully.”
“The European Games is considered as my baby and it makes me rightly proud that they are becoming reality. Due to no express planning my 70th birthday comes during them (June 17)!
“So it will be a double cause for celebration.”