In a world where wars and poverty take their annual toll, one of the most powerful images, a symbol of a return to some kind of normalcy, is children playing. In Iraq and Afghanistan the soldiers were working to open playgrounds and sports fields long before they could establish any kind of government or hold elections. For children to be children they need a safe place to play.
That's where Right To Play comes in. Going back 15 years to the Winter Games in Lillehammer, Right To Play is an athlete-driven, Canadian-based organization that partners with groups like the International Olympic Committee, United Nations, and international aid agencies to create recreation programs in countries affected by war, poverty and disease in Africa, Asia, the Middle East and South America.
But while the organization was born in the Olympic movement through the Olympic Aid program it is now a separate entity that in 2010 will not be allowed to have a presence in the athletes' villages in Whistler or Vancouver.
In January, Right to Play founder and chief executive Johann Koss learned that the International Olympic Committee would not allow Right To Play at any official 2010 venues because of conflicting sponsors. While he was disappointed by the IOC's response - Right To Play is represented by 300 athletes, many of them Olympians - he has tried to look on the bright side. While they will be denied access to the Games, he said the issue did bring new attention and support to the Right To Play movement, while reaffirming his own commitment to have a presence in Vancouver and Whistler in 2010.
On Monday, Koss addressed a group of business leaders from Vancouver and Whistler at Maggie Thornhill's real estate sales office in Creekside, to discuss how best to promote Right To Play during the Games. That event was closed to the media, but they expect to have some details to announce to the public soon.
Koss says he understands the decision that was made to exclude Right To Play, but says the organization's work is too important to step aside completely.
"I think we were disappointed that it had come to this, that something that was established in the Olympics would not be a part of the 2010," said Koss. "On the other hand it created opportunities for us, and it generated support and interest from a lot of people who have contacted us with offers to help.
"We don't know what we might have accomplished working together (with the IOC), but we do know what we can do now. There will be a presence in Vancouver and Whistler, and Right To Play will come out of the Games stronger."
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