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Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon

Off-the-Cuff

Full transcript of Secretary-General's remarks at joint press conference with Mr. Thomas Bach, President of the International Olympic Committee

Sochi, Russian Federation, 6 February 2014

Good morning. Dobroye utro.

It is a great honour and privilege for me to participate in the opening ceremony of the Sochi Olympic Games. What an exciting time for me to be in Sochi! I am thrilled to be here. And I thank you [International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach] for your very kind invitation and your leadership as the new President of the IOC. You can count on the United Nations and on myself, and we can build upon all the foundations and legacies which have been laid down.

I thank the Government and people of the Russian Federation for hosting the Winter Olympic Games. I am especially grateful for the kind hospitality of the citizens of Sochi, this great and beautiful region. This is my second time to be in Sochi.

I applaud the IOC. President Thomas Bach won a gold medal in his own personal capacity as an Olympian. But I think he deserves another medal for his leadership and commitment to make these sports events as a place where we can work together with the United Nations for development and peace of the international community.

President Bach is building on the fine work of former and Honorary IOC President Jacques Rogge, who succeeded in elevating the IOC to observer status at the United Nations and left a lasting legacy of cooperation. Just one example – in February 2012, President Rogge and I made an unprecedented joint visit to Lusaka, Zambia, to see the power of sport for development and peace. President Bach was travelling with us at that time in his then capacity as Vice President of the IOC.

And, as you just saw, I had the privilege of addressing the Olympic Session for the first time as the Secretary-General of the United Nations.

This all reflects the increasingly strong and productive partnership between the United Nations and the IOC. We share the same values, including universality, solidarity and non-discrimination. 

As I told the Session, the Olympics show the power of sport to unite people regardless of age, race, class, religion, ability, sex, sexual orientation or gender identity.

The Olympics give us an opportunity to celebrate everyone’s right to compete on equal terms – no matter what they look like, where they come from or whom they love.

The Olympics also give us an opportunity to further promote women’s empowerment. It is hard to believe that only for the first time in the history of the Winter Olympic Games, women will compete in ski jump. I will of course not compete in that ski jump myself but I’ll be cheering, cheering women that they can jump as high and leap as far as their talent will take them. This is their right; women’s rights in action. We have, President Bach and myself, a moral responsibility to make a platform so that they can jump and leap.

We can build on the Olympic Truce movement, too. I repeat my call once again for all armed combatants to lay down their arms during these Olympic Games. This is a moment of peace and harmony and mutual understanding and mutual respect. 

Many United Nations agencies work directly with the IOC to fight racism, combat AIDS and drug abuse, protect the environment and to promote education. We also work together to advance the Millennium Development Goals, which must be reached by 2015. I am sure that work will continue as we define the sustainable development agenda that must follow the MDGs, including how to tackle climate change.

The convening power of the United Nations and global reach of the Olympic movement make a dynamic global duo. And I am sure we can still do more.

Let the flame of the Olympics be a symbol for sport as a global, unifying power for human dignity, peaceful progress, development and rights for all.

Q: Question on whether the Secretary-General plans to raise the question of LGBT rights with President Vladimir Putin.

SG: I know there has been some controversy about this issue. But at the same time I appreciate President Putin for his assurances that there will be no discrimination whatsoever, and that people with different sexual orientation are welcome to compete and enjoy the Olympic Games. As I have repeatedly, consistently [been] stating, in the spirit and framework of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, everybody is born free and equal. And everybody has a right to be equal, regardless of their age and sex and sexual orientation and gender identity. This is a fundamental principle of human rights, and I am sure that these Olympics will be the place where everybody, whatever sexual orientation, will be able to compete harmoniously and bring their talent to the highest [level].

Q: Was it important to mention LGBT rights here in Russia?

SG: I appreciate this opportunity that the Russian authorities have been exerting their efforts to mobilise all resources and their capacity to bring the Winter Olympics Games to such a great preparation and success. At the same time I hope that these Olympics will be the Games where all the people, regardless of their sexual orientation, LGBT and all these people will really be able to enjoy the harmony and friendship and mutual respect and compete in the spirit of the Olympic Movement. That is what the Russian Government is committed [to]. That’s what I am assured by President Putin.

Q: Question looking for details on expanding relationship between the IOC and UN.

SG: This is quite encouraging collaboration between two important organizations. I said, the United Nations has convening power on all different subjects and the Olympic Movement has global reach. So if they combine their global reach and convening power we can make many things differently. This collaboration with the IOC and the United Nations has been developed over the last 20 years, since 1994, through three consecutive Secretaries-General, starting from Boutros Boutros-Ghali, my predecessor Kofi Annan and myself.

During my term as Secretary-General over the last several years we have been significantly expanding such a cooperative relationship. Under the leadership of former President Jacques Rogge and under the leadership of President Thomas Bach I am sure that we will expand to a much, much higher and wider variety of collaboration. For example the IOC has become a permanent observer mission, and I was the first one to address an Olympic Congress, I was the first one to the run with the torch in the London Olympics and [help carry] this Olympic flag. We have developed a very, very strong relationship in Sochi. I am honoured to be the first Secretary-General to address an IOC session. I participated in the discussions on how the IOC and the Olympic Movement as a whole can contribute to world peace and harmony and good governance and mutual respect and social responsibility. These are all important agendas which the United Nations is promoting, and I am sure the UN and IOC will be great partners.

Q: On Olympic truce and Syria, and on Syria’s chemical weapons.

SG: It is tragic that this conflict still continues. It has been [going on] for three years. And it is not only in Syria we see such conflict – in South Sudan and the Central African Republic and elsewhere. That is why the United Nations General Assembly has adopted unanimously by all 193 Member States that all warring parties should lay down their weapons at least during this very festive, harmonious period of the Olympic Games. I am very much troubled that this is not being kept. I again urge warring parties to lay down their weapons.

About the chemical weapons, I believe that this process is moving on rather smoothly even though there have been some delays. When I met the Foreign Minister of Syria, Mr. Moallem, in [Montreux] last week he assured me that this chemical weapons destruction process will continue as scheduled. There are of course some security concerns. There are many countries now providing their logistical support and the technological support to destroy these chemical weapons as soon as possible. Now, our target is June 30 this year. This may be a very tight target but I believe it can be done with the support of the Syrian Government, I expect that they will do it, and also full logistical and political support from many countries. Thank you.