Olympic Games chief Thomas Bach hints at way for athletes to play politics in Sochi
International Olympic Committee (IOC) president Thomas Bach said on Monday athletes could make political statements if they so wished at press conferences during the forthcoming Sochi Winter Olympic Games but not during the events themselves.
The run-up to the first Winter Games in Russia – which get under way in the Black Sea resort on February 7 – have been mired in controversy amid corruption allegations, terror threats, and a Russian law banning gay propaganda among minors.
However, the 60-year-old German, who was elected as Jacques Rogge’s successor in Buenos Aires in September, said that as with every Games, athletes could be punished if they made political statements or gestures during competition or at a medals ceremony, but they were free to say whatever they wished at the press conferences.
“It is very clear, the Games cannot be used as a stage for political demonstrations however good the cause may be,” Bach said.
“The IOC will take, if necessary, individual decisions based on individual cases.
“It is also clear, on the other hand, the athletes enjoy the freedom of speech so if in a press conference they wanted to make a political statement then they are absolutely free to do so.”
Bach, who won Olympic gold in fencing in 1976, said in reply to a suggestion that he was advising athletes to make their point at news conferences rather than the medals podium: “If you are drawing this conclusion I would not say anything against it.”
However, Bach said that as was usual with all Olympic Games, the concerns and dramas before it started would dissipate once the event got under way.
“When the athletes will be in Sochi, it will become clearer and clearer that the Olympic Games are first of all about the athletes and about sport.
“You will see this in the opening ceremony, and even more then when the sport competitions are starting, it will become evident for everybody.
“There are always before the Games political discussions, we have concerns but I think the people around the world know this is first of all about sport and therefore I am really confident that we will have, in this respect, a very good atmosphere.”
Bach, who will be overseeing his first Games as Olympic boss in Sochi, said he was confident the Games would go well.
“I am looking forward to these first Winter Games under my presidency and I am very, very confident that they are going to be successful.”
Bach, a lawyer, said the huge security operation being put in place by the Russian government was necessary, but he was confident it would not impinge on the spectators’ enjoyment of the sporting spectacle.
“We have full confidence in the Russian authorities. You need high security and we know this situation.
“If you look back at Salt Lake City, just a couple of months after 9/11, we also had thousands of security officers around the place and the people appreciate it and think that the security is being taken care of.
“I think the Russian security forces will manage this in a way that it does not affect the Olympic atmosphere like for instance, the security officers in Salt Lake City managed.”