Human rights group Embargoed! held a symbolic protest this morning outside the central London hotel where the Executive Board of the International Olympic Committee were meeting. The group is angry that world class Turkish Cypriot athletes have been barred from the London Olympics. Taekwondo world champions Ziya Gokbilen and Pinar Akarpinar are from the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, which lacks international recognition. Their request to participate under the Olympic Flag was also denied. The protestors criticised the IOC for failing to act in the spirit of the Olympic Movement by making the athletes “pay the price for political problems outside their control.”
In a joint action with the British Turkish Cypriot Association, the dozen demonstrators wore handcuffs and balls and chains around their feet to symbolise the international isolation of Turkish Cypriots, while holding a big banner that read “Shackled in Life, Shackled in Sport”. In a letter to IOC President Jacques Rogge they highlight the plight of the TRNC’s top two Taekwondo fighters, world champions Ziya Gokbilen and Pinar Akarpinar, who are both set to miss the London Games. The human rights group claim the spirit and ideals of the Olympic Movement demand these Turkish Cypriot athletes be allowed to take part in the Olympic Games.
Embargoed! spokesperson Ipek Ozerim said, “The IOC is failing the very principles it is entrusted to uphold. The Olympic Charter clearly states participation in sport is a human right and any form of discrimination on the grounds of race, religion, or politics is incompatible with the Olympic Movement.” She added, “Ziya and Pinar train every day. They should not be forced to pay the price for political problems outside their control. They have demonstrated their world class abilities and if they can’t compete for the TRNC, let them compete under the Olympic Flag. The IOC has just allowed a South Sudanese runner to become an Independent Athlete, so why are Turkish Cypriots treated differently?”
The Republic of Cyprus was formed in 1960 by Greek and Turkish Cypriots, regarded in law as two politically equal entities. The partnership state collapsed a few years later resulting in two totally separate administrations evolving. Since March 1964, the world has officially only dealt with the Greek Cypriot one. The TRNC was declared in 1983 and is only recognised by Turkey. In 2004, the international community vowed to end the international isolation of Turkish Cypriots following their vote to unite the island.