A British organiser for the 2015 European Games in Baku has this week sparked outrage after stating that Azerbaijan is an ‘incredibly free’ society, despite numerous reports of authoritarian crackdowns on activists and journalists.
Simon Clegg, a chief operating officer who held a leading role in the London 2012 Olympics, this week claimed that Azerbaijan is a free country and that it was not his role as an organiser to speak out against the current regime.
The organiser has stated that he is focusing his attention on the organisation of the upcoming competition in Baku and tried to separate himself from the country’s current political situation.
On the subject of the Azerbaijani government Clegg told journalists, “I understand that it’s difficult to separate sport and politics, but in this regard I am incredibly focused on what I have to deliver”.
When asked his opinion of President Aliyev’s recent treatment of activists and journalists detainerd for speaking out against the government Clegg refused to comment.
When criticised for his statement Clegg responded to journalists, insisting that Azerbaijan was a free society:
“I can only tell you from my own personal experience having been here for the past three months. I walk out in the street, I walk around freely, and I can only come back on what I see and what I experience here but it is an incredibly free society.”
Claims made by the British sports organiser proved controversial in the international community. Many were quick to refute Clegg’s statements, pointing to election-fixing and the politically motivated arrest of several anti-government voices as proof of Azerbaijan’s authoritarian regime.
The list of activists currently detained by authorities includes leading voice Leyla Yunus, who had previously called for a boycott of the Baku 2015 games and was arrested earlier this month.