Sochi chosen to host 2015 global sports convention
LONDON (AP) The sports world will return to Sochi next year - despite the global criticism of Russia following the downing of a Malaysian airliner over Ukraine.
SportAccord, an umbrella body representing Olympic and non-Olympic sports federations, announced Tuesday that it will hold its annual sports industry convention in 2015 in Sochi, the Russian city which hosted the 2014 Winter Games.
The meeting will be held in April or May.
Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates; Durban, South Africa; and a city in Brazil had also been considered as venues for the SportAccord Convention, which brings together delegates from more than 100 international sports bodies as well as key Olympic and industry leaders from around the world.
The decision to award the event to Russia comes at a time of tense relations between the West and Moscow, amid mounting international anger after a Malaysian Airlines plane was shot down over rebel-held territory in eastern Ukraine last week, killing all 298 aboard.
The European Union agreed Tuesday to impose new sanctions against officials deemed responsible for Russia's actions in Ukraine, while leading Democratic senators in the United States called for harsh measures against Moscow.
But SportAccord President Marius Vizer, who heads the international judo federation and has close ties to Russia, said Sochi was the ideal location for the convention.
''A city that demonstrated its passion for sport and capability through the successful organization of the Winter Olympic Games, it will once again embrace the entire sport community while activating its legacy,'' the Hungarian said in a statement.
Russian Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko hailed the move as ''very important for Russia'' and an ''honor'' for the country.
''The Olympic Games legacy contributes to the development of Sochi as one of the most important sporting cities in the world, which makes it attractive for holding such significant events as the SportAccord Convention,'' he said.
SportAccord calls the convention ''the world's premier annual event at the service of sport, focused on driving positive change internationally, and dedicated to engaging rights holders, organizing committees, cities, businesses and other organizations in the development of sport.''
The decision to award the meeting to Sochi could prove tricky for the International Olympic Committee and its president, Thomas Bach.
The IOC has always held an executive board meeting in conjunction with the SportAccord convention, a gesture bringing more prestige and media coverage to the event.
With Bach still in his first year in office and seeking to push through a series of reforms and changes by the end of 2014, it wasn't immediately clear whether the IOC board will meet again at next year's SportAccord.
It will be the second time in three years the convention has been held in Russia. St. Petersburg hosted the meeting in 2013, with Vladimir Putin among those attending. This year's meeting was held in Belek, Turkey, in April.
The Romanian-born Vizer has emerged as one of the most powerful figures in the Olympic movement. He was elected in 2013 as head of SportAccord, taking over from former international cycling federation chief Hein Verbruggen.
Vizer has proposed holding a ''United World Championships'' for all the sports federations every four years, a potential direct challenge to the IOC and the Olympics.
Vizer was among the 16 officials who attended an Olympic summit meeting convened by Bach at IOC headquarters in Lausanne, Switzerland, last Saturday.
In Tuesday's statement, Vizer said he fully supported the IOC and Bach's reform agenda but also made two controversial requests.
Vizer, who is not an IOC member, proposed that presidents of sport federations on the Olympic program be granted IOC membership regardless of age, meaning they would be able to serve beyond the current age limit of 70.
Vizer also said the IOC should lift a rule that bars cities bidding for the Olympics from hosting the SportAccord convention.
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