Olympic Chiefs Honour
'Europe's Last Dictator'
Olympic bosses have created a special award honouring the sporting achievements of the man branded ‘Europe’s last dictator.’ When Belarus president Alexander Lukashenko isn’t closing critical newspapers and sending his riot police to club opponents, he presides over the Belarus national Olympic committee. Last month, at a meeting of the European Olympic Committees (EOC) in Istanbul, he was hailed for ‘his outstanding contribution to the Olympic movement.’
Lauding Lukashenko the EOC president Patrick Hickey, an IOC member from Dublin, highlighted the success of Belarusian athletes at the Beijing Olympics. They won 19 medals - but two are now in doubt. Samples given by the silver and bronze hammer throwers are being re-tested for illegal testosterone. One has already served a two-year ban for an earlier offence. In September two other Belarus athletes were given doping bans.
According to a Norwegian delegate in Istanbul, the award was dreamed up by Hickey and two other officials. She added, ‘I do not know what Lukashenko has done for the EOC. Delegates were not given the opportunity to vote on the award. President Hickey made the presentation before the meeting.’
Among the goals of the EOC, which occupies a splendid villa on a wooded hillside above Rome, is ‘the spreading of Olympic ideals.’ Hickey has headed Ireland’s Olympic Committee for 20 years. When he was re-elected in October his EOC announced that Hickey’s ‘commitment in Europe has been highly beneficial for the whole Olympic Movement.’
Alexander Lukashenko has ruled Belarus, sandwiched between Poland and Russia, for the last 14 years. Opposition protests are crushed by riot police and he is always re-elected. European election monitors in 2006 noted ‘a pattern of intimidation and the suppression of independent voices was evident throughout the campaign.’
Reporters Sans Frontiers says ‘The free press has virtually disappeared . . . media outlets must register with the authorities and are constantly scrutinised by the secret police, the old KGB.’ Corruption experts Transparency International ranks Belarus 151 out 180 countries.
Lukashenko has hired British public relations guru Lord Tim Bell and his company Bell Pottinger, famous for burnishing the image of Margaret Thatcher, to put a gloss on his thuggery.
The Olympic movement has a long history of succouring tyrants. Olympic Orders were bestowed on the butcher of Bucharest, Nicolae Ceaucescu, Bulgarian dictator Todor Zhivkov, East German ruler Erich Honecker and Manfred Ewald who devised East Germany’s doping programme.
In another astonishing move at the EOC congress President Hickey presented their 2008 Order of Merit to French Olympic leader Henri Sérandour – who resigned from the IOC in 2007 ahead of a reprimand from the IOC’s Ethics Committee. The previous year a Paris court gave him a three-month suspended sentence and a 20,000 Euros fine after it was discovered he had awarded Olympic contracts to a company employing his wife.
The Herald asked the British Olympic Association, members of the European Olympic Committees, if they had been consulted about the award to Lukashenko, what had he done to deserve it – and did they approve? They promised to reply – but did not. We tried to put these questions to Patrick Hickey but his office said he was travelling and they could not contact him until next week.