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As Brazil Gets Olympic Baton, No Questions on Spending, UK Lobbied by Saudi

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, July 29 -- When the UK handed over the Olympic baton to Brazil with the UN's Ban Ki-moon and his empty track suit presiding, Inner City Press expected that at least a few questions would be taken.

  They had, after all, asked journalists to RSVP and put it in the UN Media Alert, unlike the morning's General Assembly briefing on Syria.

  A range of Permanent Representatives showed up: Sylvie Lucas of Luxembourg and her counterparts Costa Rica's Eduardo Ulibarri-Bilbao, Bolivia's Sacha Sergio Llorentty SolÝz, Gabon's Nelson Messone, New Zealand's Jim Mclay, Kazakhstan's Byrganym Aitimova (an Olympian, who also spoke at China's Li Baodong's farewell) and Saudi Arabia's Abdallah Yahya A. Al-Mouallimi and Kenya's Macharia Kamau (more on these last two later.)

  A riser for camera-persons had been set up; there were speakers for sound and UNTV was there. Ban Ki-moon, fresh from issuing a statement about the attack on a building housing Turkish personnel in Mogadishu, arrived and the speeches began.

  The UK's Mark Lyall Grant joked about "Big Ban" in front of Big Ben; Ban used the opportunity to talk up the 2018 Winter Olympics in his native South Korea, which Yonhap says he will visit for six days in late August. Brazil's new Permanent Representative Luiz Alberto Figueiredo Machado talked about trying to live up to London's standard.

  This was the question that with all due respect should have been allowed and asked: what does the UN make of the protests of Brazil's spending on the World Cup and Olympics?

  Since Ban cited sustainability, does building a stadium in the middle of the jungle meet that definition? As the Games, and World Cup before then, get closer the questions will continue to be asked.

(As will why FIFA gave the World Cup to Qatar, with talk now turning to holding it in the winter due to heat. Or does Ban Ki-moon think it's "sustainable" to try to air-condition an outdoor stadium?)

At the end of the event, Saudi Arabia's Permanent Representative Abdallah Yahya A. Al-Mouallimi who spoke earlier about Syria was seen chatting up Lyall Grant on something. Inner City Press asked Kenya's affable Permanent Representative Macharia Kamau what brought him to the event. We always do well, he joked, we need commitments to get good starting places. Watch this site.

Footnote: the new Free UN Coalition for Access, which complained of the hurdles the UN put up to covering the morning's General Assembly meeting on Syria, is proposing the the UN and where applicable member states make clear in advance when events will not allow any questions. While the UN's response for now has been, "your presence is not mandatory," followed by threats, we're expecting more on this. Watch this site.


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