Athletes protest exclusion of Right to Play 

More than 90 athletes sign letter to IOC asking that organization be allowed in Olympic villages

Athletes care about sport.

And in a perfect world they would like every child to have a chance to play some sort of sport and learn the values associated with sportsmanship.

This is the passion that drives the international humanitarian organization Right to Play and it is why is has been visible in the athletes' villages at Olympic Games.

At least until now.

But because Right to Play receives $1.5 million over three years in sponsorship from Mitsubishi, and the 2010 Games are sponsored to the tune of between $53 and $67 million by rival carmaker GM, the organization has been banned from the athletes' villages at next year's Winter Olympic Games.

But the ban is not stopping athletes, amateur and professional, from signing a letter to the International Olympic Committee to ask that the position be reversed.

And they want to make sure that their voice as athletes is not confused with the IOC's position.

"The decision by the International Olympic Committee to exclude Right To Play from the Olympic village, and dissolve the memorandum of understanding that had existed previously, has been met with profound disappointment and regret," states a letter sent Friday to the IOC.

To date over 90 athletes have signed and the list reads like a who's who of sport. It includes Beckie Scott, Hayley Wickenheiser, Mark Tewksbury, and even Alberta born Boston Bruins defenceman Andrew Ference.

"It took a while to sink in for people and then it came to a head as athletes started to talk to each other and we realized the amount of dissent and disapproval we felt," said Adam Kreek, a gold medalist from the Beijing Olympics who signed the letter.

"It is really unfortunate that business has to get in the way of ideals... As an athlete, and one who has embraced the Olympic ideals and taken them to heart, it is hard to see an organization that is doing such good removed from access to the athletes."

Kreek first became involved with RTP after he competed in the Athens Summer Games. He really learned about the organization from its information centre and volunteers in the athletes' village there.

"It was there that I truly bought into the movement," he said, adding that access to athletes in the village is one of the best ways to reach people from all over the world.

"In a perfect would I would like to see Right to Play allowed back in the Olympic Village, but I am a realist and I don't know that that is going to happen," said Kreek from Victoria.

"We are not trying to be controversial here... it is more that we as athletes are foot soldiers of the Olympic movement and we feel that our values have been betrayed."

Kreek said the organization is working on a way to reach athletes in 2010 and, he said, perhaps the silver lining to the story is that there is more public awareness of the organization now than previously. This will likely increase if the Right to Play information area is in the public domain at Games time next February.

Right To Play, which is headquartered in Toronto, uses sport and play programs to improve health, develop life skills, and foster peace for children and communities in some of the most disadvantaged areas of the world. Working in both the humanitarian and development context, Right To Play trains local community leaders as coaches to deliver its programs in countries affected by war, poverty, and disease in Africa, Asia, the Middle East, and South America.

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child guides their work. Right To Play programs target the most marginalized including girls, people living with disability, children affected by HIV and AIDS, street children, former child combatants and refugees.

Currently, Right To Play works in 23 countries.

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