TBILISI, DFWatch – The opposition Georgian Dream movement is campaigning to defend athletes against government harassment, but the sports minister says there is no harassment.
Over 130 athletes have signed a petition organized by the opposition Georgian Dream movement. They claim that the government is treating them based on their political opinions and not on their achievement.
Georgian Dream, the political party established by billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili, has formed an action group dealing with the political harassment in sports. The action group is supported by many well-known sportsmen: Kakhi Kaladze, Zurab Zviadauri, Shota Khabareli, among others.
Shota Khabareli, former coach of the Georgian national judo team, said that a restaurant he owns received a one million lari fine after Georgian Dream’s big demonstration in Tbilisi. After the rallies in Kutaisi and Ozurgeti, the fine increased to over 2, 5 million lari.
Bidzina Ivanishvili bought 10 percent of Kakhi Kaladze’s Progress Bank. The next day, the National Bank’s supervision service broke into the Progress Bank to check it.
Zurab Zviadauri, Olympic champion, who is now Georgian Dream’s majoritarian candidate for Akhmeta, a small town in eastern Georgia, on June 6 accused the Sports and Youth Affairs Ministry of harassing athletes. He says Sports Minister Lado Vardzelashvili told European Champion Nodar Metreveli openly that they would have electrocuted Zviadauri if they weren’t afraid of the American observers.
But the Sports Ministry says that there is no harassment of athletes. Furthermore, they still receive money from the government for their achievements in sport and all 130 signatories are members of Georgian Dream and their accusations are part of the party’s election campaign, the ministry says.
The statement continues saying that they only recommended to active sportsmen that engagement in current events may reduce their sport discipline.
Levan Kipiani, chair of Georgian Dream’s action group on sports says that in order to scare and punish people with opposition views, the government is setting up punishing units of outstanding sportsmen, which may become reason for clashes in society.
Minister Vardzelashvili said in an interview with Radio Liberty that no one is preventing athletes from expressing their political views in Georgia, but activity in politics has a negative influence on the career of sportsmen.