By Nick Butler

Sir Philip Craven has been criticised for claiming that only sport matters when choosing Paralympic host cities ©Getty ImagesMarch 15 - Human Rights Watch have strongly criticised International Paralympic Committee (IPC) President Sir Philip Craven for claiming only sporting credentials matter in the choice of Paralympic host cities. 

Speaking earlier this week Sir Philip claimed that when deciding host cities "there are so many things that could, maybe should, be taken into account."

"I don't think we necessarily need to emphasise certain different areas, except one and that is sport - the athletes," he told Associated Press.

This stance has been strongly criticised by Human Rights Watch as they strive for human rights reforms to be added to both the Olympic Charter and the Host City Contract process.

"Craven's comments seem to totally ignore the IPC's own principles," said Andrea Mazzarino, American Council of Learned Societies public fellow and Human Rights Watch disability rights researcher.

"The IPC must require host cities to work toward an accessible environment.

"This is a human rights issue that the IPC itself has said should be factored into its selection of host cities."

Sir Philip Craven pictured with Russian President Vladimir Putin during the Games ©Getty ImagesSir Philip Craven pictured greeting Russian President Vladimir Putin during the Games
©Getty Images

Although Sochi 2014 has been highly praised by the IPC for its progress in creating a barrier-free environment in Sochi, Human RIghts Watch claim that many problems still remain for those with disabilities.

This included infrastructural barriers last week which meant that wheelchair users, including athletes and visitors, were unable to navigate Sochi and the Olympic Park without assistance, they claim.

This comes on top of other "serious human rights abuses" linked to Sochi 2014, including forced evictions of residents without proper compensation, exploitation of workers on Olympic sites, and harassment of activists and journalists who criticised preparations.

Human Rights Watch added that while Russia has taken many steps towards removing various barriers for the disabled, such as by ratifying the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, more needs to be done to create a barrier-free environment.

Although improvements have been made regarding wheelchair access, Human Rights Watch claim more work needs to be done ©Getty ImagesAlthough improvements have been made regarding wheelchair access, Human Rights Watch claim more work needs to be done ©Getty Images

In this vein they claimed the words of Sir Philip are "disappointing", particularly given that last year he said that "the success of the Games can be judged only by the legacy they leave."

In the IPC handbook, which among other things lays out rules for the selection of host cities, it states that "the host city already from the candidature phase needs to demonstrate a commitment to accessibility and inclusion" - and this would presumably involve removing all impediments for the disabled. 

"One of the IPC's core commitments is to leave a positive legacy of inclusion and accessibility in the host country," added Mazzarino.

"This is why human rights issues are also crucial in the selection of a host city."

"The IPC should state clearly that it will consider candidate cities' readiness to honour basic human rights and develop a barrier-free environment before they award the right to host the Paralympic Games."

Contact the writer of this story at [email protected]

Related stories
March 2014: Putin thanks IPC for supporting sport over politics at Sochi 2014
March 2014: "Leave global politics to politicians" says IPC President as he arrives in Sochi for Paralympics
March 2014:
 Nick Butler - From Stoke Mandeville to Sochi via Crimea, the Paralympics are almost upon us
November 2013: IPC President confident about gay rights and barrier-free access but concerned over ticket sales at Sochi 2014