Right to Play right at home at Vcr Games despite split with official Olympics

The Canadian Press ~ The News
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VANCOUVER - A children's charity barred from official Vancouver Olympic events because of a sponsorship conflict has opened its doors on its own exhibit in downtown Vancouver, despite the split.
Right To Play, an international organization dedicated to bringing sport to children in areas affected by war, poverty or disease, had been allowed to set up in the athletes villages since the 1992 Games in Albertville.
The charity was, in fact, the brainchild of the Lillehammer organizing committee for the 1994 Games, in partnership with the Red Cross, Save the Children and Olympic Aid.
But a conflict between the group's corporate sponsorships and the official Games sponsors meant the groups parted ways prior to the Vancouver Games.
Robert Witchel, Canadian director of the international group, said after the World of Play exhibit opened Tuesday at the Concord Place celebration site on Vancouver's False Creek, that the group was borne of the Olympic movement.
He said it was disappointing when the sponsorship rift forced it out of the Olympic fold after the Beijing Summer Games.
But "because we're borne of the Olympic movement, it's very important that we're here," he said of a presence in Vancouver.
Witchel said the location outside of official venues has given the group a chance for closer outreach with the public.
Right to Play runs sports programs in 23 countries in Africa, Asia, South America and the Middle East, and recently launched its first Canadian pilot program aimed at children in remote First Nations communities in northern Ontario. The group said it reaches 600,000 children every week.
Its dozens of celebrity athlete ambassadors include Canadian gold-medal winning speedskater Clara Hughes, who will carry the Canadian flag at the opening ceremonies of the Vancouver Winter Games, and hockey great Wayne Gretzky.
"Part of the reason for being here is to meet some of the athletes and teach them about what we do," he said.
"When Clara won the gold medal in Turin, she donated $10,000 of her own money and she was such an inspiration to Canadians that we raised almost half a million after she did that. Athletes have a certain power - people look up to them and admire them, children and adults do, and we have some of the best in the world."
Johann Koss, president and CEO of the international charity and a four-time Olympic gold medallist in speedskating, lauded Vancouver Games organizers and said the event will be "fantastic," despite being left out of official events.
"After the Beijing Olympics we understood that we could not be a part of the Games any more. So we had to accept that and work differently this time," the Norwegian sport superstar said in an interview.
"Personally, I would love to have been inside the Olympic village but now we have this site and different other sites in the city."
Right To Play has also teamed up with clothing retailer Roots, which has released a line of clothing in time for the Olympic Games.

Organizations: Red Cross, First Nations, Olympic Games

Geographic location: VANCOUVER, Albertville, Lillehammer Concord Place Beijing Africa Asia South America Middle East Northern Ontario Turin

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