Refugees do have right to sports: Gianni Merlo


During the Turkmenistan International Sports Media Forum (TISMF) in Ashgabat, the capital city of Turkmenistan, in the last week of November, Gianni Merlo, president of Association International de la Press Sportive (AIPS)  took time off to speak to Binod Dhungel, the Consulting Editor of Bhutan News Service on a range of issues- particularly related to media, sports and refugees. In the exclusive interview with the Bhutan’s first news agency in Ashgabat, Merlo mentioned that refugees also have ‘right to sports’ and announced of support from AIPS to those journalists in exile from Bhutan, who really want to enhance their capacity and skill in sports journalism. Literally, the interview was focused on the issues surrounding “sports-politico” concerning to Bhutanese sports and Bhutanese media in exile. The following script is from his brainstorming interview, which is also available as audio below. The excerpts of the exclusive interview are as follows:

Gianni Merlo  (Photo Courtesy:TISMF)
Gianni Merlo
(Photo Courtesy:TISMF)

Have you heard of anything like right to sports of people?
There it exists, but not for all. The agenda is important especially for young generations, but also for the old ones. There is possibility of existence of high sports because it’s a health problem, and also for young generations to change their lives. You’re not to forget that for many young people it means, sometimes, to fulfill some professional sports to check their level of lives. And, for others it is an education that is very important because it is a part of their culture, heritage. Thus, everybody must have right to sports.

Single right to sports doesn’t exist and it exists under the umbrella of right to education, right to culture and right to health something like that?
Yes. A sport is a human activity, and is very important socially. We have to always try to give a new input because nowadays computer and the city life have attracted many people. But, the city life is very dangerous esp. mentally. A sport is a part of the life. When you are a kid, you play. It’s important to play. If the kids are not playing, that is something very sad because it means they will have abnormal education afterwards. Lesser help towards sports for kids and young generations means they may not be better citizens in future.

If it is that much essential part of the society and culture, it is thought about right to sports, as we discussed, of the refugee communities in the world?
They have rights as any other human beings. Right to sports is essential for them to lead normal life. This agenda is especially for them. Sports can be a tool for upgrading their lives.

Some 19 percent of people from Bhutan were expelled from their county in 1990s. This is a significant part of the population. Still, they never get chance to represent their country…
This is an issue that we can submit to the [International] Olympic Committee because this is something that we need to study together also to find a solution for these people. Also, we need to try to convince the government of Bhutan since they belong to that country. Though they are outside, the refugees were born in Bhutan. I think that this isn’t an easy issue. And, as a sports journalist I also want to visit Bhutan one day, and figure out how is the reality of sports in Bhutanese, where these refugees were born. I have no idea about Bhutan.

L-R: Chairman of the State Committee of Turkmenistan for Sport Batyr Orazov, AIPS President Merlo, Secretary General of National Olympic Committee of Turkmenistan Azat Muradov and BNS Contributing Editor Dhungel (Picture courtesy: TISMF)
Left-Right: Chairman of the State Committee of Turkmenistan for Sport Batyr Orazov,  AIPS President Merlo, Secretary General of National Olympic Committee of Turkmenistan, Azat Muradov, and BNS Consulting Editor, Binod Dhungel
(Picture: BNS)

Those who are residing in Nepal, they’re competing with regional games and sometimes they win some medals as well…
For this the Olympic Community and International Sports Federation have to find a solution. We can push this issue as journalists. We aren’t rulers. But, we can take care this problem, submit this problem to people in charge of this.

So, what would be your prescriptions for journalists for and from the refugee community regarding sports and other things?
What we can do is to go to their nation, where they were born, and see how is the situation over there, and find out what are the possible solutions?

If they aren’t allowed there…?
We have to go their country and check. Even as sports journalists we can more than what we think of if we begin to work in the field of politics since we don’t belong to any body. We simply carry the idea of sports. We can go there and tell our opinions. The [Bhutanese] authority will decide what to do but we need to go and see situations in every country. Every country is different, no? There might be sports journalists in Bhutan. I don’t have any idea about them. It is better to go there, meet them and find out how is their mind.

Are there sports journalists from the refugee communities in AIPS?
We recognize journalists also individuals sometimes. There is a country like Kosovo not recognized a country by the UN (United Nations). Personally, I recognize someone working as a sports journalist as a journalist even if his country is not recognized because we have no boundaries. The difference is to recognize an association because we are following exactly what the UN follows. If the UN recognizes somebody, we also recognize that. So, it is a long procedure but it is an agenda. We can push it forward; may be our intervention can help solve the problem.

As other sports journalists working in advanced level for the media coverage regarding sports, refugee journalists mayn’t have that much capacity and quality for the sports journalism. What would be your idea?
We can teach them to be good journalists. I don’t know why can’t be trained. If there are people who want to try our profession, we must help them to develop. We can even go to refugee camps to speak about this problem.

Gianni Merlo delivering a keynote speech to the delegation at TISMF (Picture courtesy: TISMF)
Gianni Merlo delivering a keynote speech to the delegation at TISMF
(Picture courtesy: TISMF)

The Nepali-speaking Bhutanese community has been resettled in various eight countries in the west. One day they will become citizens of the respective countries, but their hearts will still remain as Bhutanese. In those conditions, how would you like to address them as journalists from Bhutan, but legally…? 
We even recognize journalists without any nationality, and this shouldn’t be a problem of nationality. When I have to speak on behalf of a journalist, I never look where he comes from. The only thing I look at is how honest he is. I don’t look for which nations they are coming from.

Could AIPS do something for journalists from the Bhutanese community?
We can. We can go to refugee camps through Nepali associations and discuss their problems. This shouldn’t be an issue. We are open. The most important thing is we are a cultural association. We can increase as much culture as possible from around the world including refugees camps. Our duty is to help people around the world. We are always ready to find a solution to help people.

Do you have any offhand information as how many journalists from the refugee communities are members in your organization?
Not at this moment. We recognized some from Kosovo, but not from refugee camps. I don’t know exactly, but there must be some from refugee camps in Palestine. We don’t have such statistics.

So, what we are talking about the Bhutanese refugee is a peculiar and unique one…?
In some ways, it is ‘yes’. If we can help, we are ready to help. We also like to go to Bhutan to see how the [sports] situation is over there. I have read about Bhutan that it is a beautiful country. But, I don’t know how they [sports journalists] are working, and condition of sports there. I hope that one day we’ll have possibility to be there, and speak with sports colleagues. I think that there are sports journalists [in Bhutan] too.