United Nations

Twitter: @AmbassadorPower

President Barack Obama meets with Refugee Olympian

Leave a comment

President Barack Obama spoke with Refugee Olympic Team swimmer Yusra Mardini at the Leaders’ Summit on the Global Refugee Crisis at the United Nations in New York on Tuesday.

Mardini delivered a 2 minute, 43 second speech introducing Obama to the General Assembly.

“This [Olympic] experience has also given me a voice and an opportunity to be heard,” she said in her speech.

Obama then opened his remarks by thanking Mardini, who swam the 100m butterfly (VIDEO) and 100m freestyle in Rio.

“Yusra, we could not be prouder of you — not just for the great introduction, but more importantly, for your courage and your resilience and the great example that you’re setting for children everywhere, including your eight-year-old sister, who I know must look up to you,” Obama said in his speech (TRANSCRIPT).

Obama is expected to host members of the U.S. Olympic Team next week at the White House.

Mardini’s story was depicted in an emotional Visa ad during the Olympics. While escaping the violence of the Syrian war in 2015, the engine in Mardini’s boat died and she had to jump into the water to help pull her fellow refugees to safety.

“I want to help change people’s perceptions of what a refugee is,” she said in her speech. “For everyone to understand it is not a choice to flee from your home. Refugees are normal people who can achieve great things if given the opportunity.”

UN: Rio Olympics very unlikely to spread Zika virus

Getty Images
Leave a comment

GENEVA (AP) — There is “a very low risk” that the upcoming Rio de Janeiro Olympics will accelerate the spread of the Zika virus around the globe, the World Health Organization said Tuesday.

After convening a meeting of its independent Zika experts, the U.N. health agency reaffirmed its previous advice that only pregnant women should skip the Aug. 5-21 games in Brazil, the epicenter of the ongoing outbreak.

The explosive spread of the Zika virus was declared a global emergency in February. The disease is largely spread by mosquitoes, but in rare cases can also be transmitted via sex. In most cases, Zika causes only mild symptoms like a fever and rash, but it is also responsible for severe birth defects including babies born with abnormally small heads and a rare neurological syndrome that can cause death or temporary paralysis.

After numerous outsiders raised concerns about whether or not the Rio games should be moved or postponed because of the Zika threat, WHO said the issue would be considered at its Tuesday meeting.

The expert group acknowledged that mass gatherings like the Olympics “can result in the amplification of transmission” but still insisted that “the individual risks in areas of transmission are the same whether or not a mass gathering is conducted.”

Dr. Bruce Aylward, WHO director of emergency programs, said that the increase in travel to Rio because of the Olympics would be “very, very marginal.”

“I am not invested in whether or not the Games happen in Brazil or not. I mean, it would be great if they do: I think the Olympic Games are a great thing, and I think the world needs them now more than ever,” Aylward said.

The committee issued various recommendations to Brazilian officials and said authorities should intensify mosquito control measures and “ensure the availability of sufficient insect repellent and condoms for athletes and visitors.”

Last week, Brazil’s new health minister said there was practically “zero” risk that any of the expected 500,000 Olympic visitors would be infected with Zika. Some athletes, journalists and others have expressed reservations about attending the games.

One of the leading critics of the WHO says he was invited to sit on the emergency committee, only to have his invitation rescinded when he refused to sign a confidentiality clause.

Last month, Canadian professor Amir Attaran and more than 200 colleagues wrote an open letter to WHO, accusing it of shirking its responsibilities by not considering whether to recommend delaying or canceling the Rio Olympics. He then received an invitation from WHO to sit on their Zika committee.

But when the agency sent him a number of forms needed for his participation, including one with a clause that deems the committee deliberations to be secret, Attaran refused to sign and struck out that particular clause.

WHO spokesman Christian Lindmeier said that because Attaran did not agree to the standard confidentiality form required of all experts, he was not issued a formal invitation and, thus, there was nothing to rescind. Lindmeier said that WHO was unaware of any previous cases of a potential committee member refusing to agree to keep deliberations secret.

Leaders of IOC, Sochi Olympics at United Nations for Olympic Truce

Thomas Bach
Leave a comment

International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach and Sochi Olympic Organizing Committee president Dmitry Chernyshenko were at the United Nations on Wednesday as the General Assembly adopted the symbolic resolution for an Olympic Truce during the Sochi Games.

The Olympic Truce has been a common practice for two decades.

“Precisely because many of our principles are the same, it must always be clear in the relationship between sport and politics that the role of sport is always to build bridges,” Bach said. “It is never to build walls.”

For the first time, the Olympic Truce called “upon host countries to promote social inclusion without discrimination of any kind,” according to Reuters. The statement was first reported to be added to the truce by The New York Times in September.

This comes five months after Russia passed its law banning homosexual “propaganda” toward minors.

On Tuesday, Chernyshenko said those who wear rainbow colors at the Olympics in response to Russia’s anti-gay legislation will not face repercussions, according to USA Today.

“For me it sounds funny that someone is saying, ‘I am very brave. I will put my rainbow pin on and let me go to the (jail) in Russia because I will be promoting (gay rights) during the Olympic Games,'” he told the newspaper. “Has anybody noted what kind of uniform game organizers will be wearing?”

Volunteers and staff at the Olympics will wear multi-colored uniforms and gloves.

“People should not be afraid of painting their nails in a rainbow,” Chernyshenko said.

One of the fundamental principles of Olympism outlined in the Olympic Charter is this:

“Any form of discrimination with regard to a country or a person on grounds of race, religion, politics, gender or otherwise is incompatible with belonging to the Olympic Movement.”

Chernyshenko also told USA Today that Russia has collaborated with the U.S. for security during the Olympics, to make it the safest Games ever. He said military in Sochi will make for a “friendly atmosphere.”

Instead of military uniforms, the military providing Olympic security will be outfitted in “a special civilian uniform,” Chernyshenko said. They will wear uniforms similar to the Games organizers, but a different color.

Photos: Rocket readied to take Olympic torch to outer space