To speak up or not to speak up? Freedom of speech question is still dividing Russians and IOC by Keir Radnedge

Wednesday, 29 January 2014

KeirRadnedgeNewSochi 2014 boss Dmitry Chernyshenko has disagreed with Olympic president Thomas Bach over athletes’ right to express personal, political opinions during Winter Games press conferences.

Freedom of speech has been one of a number of issues, along with cost, security, corruption and anti-gay legislation, to have distracted attention from the point of the imminent winter sport circus in the Black Sea resort.

Russian organisers have set up so-called ‘protest zones’ away from the sports venues and the International Olympic Committee has explicitly barred political gestures on the medal podiums.

IOC president Thomas Bach said earlier this week: “It is absolutely very clear the Games cannot be used as a stage for political demonstrations, no matter how good the cause may be. If so, the IOC will take individual decisions.”

However the German who succeeded Jacques Rogge only last September then added: “On the other hand, athletes enjoy the freedom of speech. At a press conference if they want to make a political statement they are absolutely free to do so.”

Chernyshenko, in a multi-media telephone conference, disagreed.

The Sochi 2014 President and CEO said: “Everyone in attendance are welcome to enjoy themselves. We are ready to welcome everybody regardless of race, gender, religious or sexual orientation.

“[But] I don’t think it is allowed by the Olympic Charter [for athletes] to express views not related to the sport in the press conference room.

“For such expressions - in accordance with our recent statement and amendments of the laws - the special ‘Speakers’ Corner’ has been recognised in Sochi city where everybody can express themselves.”

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Chernyshenko also sought to play down the reports of the number of foreign politicians who will stay away as a gesture of disapproval against the year-old Russia legislation which bars ‘gay propaganda’ to minors.

The Presidents of the United States, Germany and France are among those who will stay away from the Opening Ceremony at which the US delegation will include a number of gay former athletes.

Chernyshenko insisted that a record number of world leaders would be turning up.

He said: “These are some of the busiest people on the planet and it is not necessary for them to visit the Games. You will see that if you evaluate who visited which Games in the past.

“We are very happy to conclude that, so far, the number of state leaders who have expressed an intention to attend the Games’ Opening Ceremony is the highest ever in the history of the modern Winter Olympics.”

Those who attend, according to Chernyshenko, will be treated to the safe and secure sight of “the brilliant showcase of the new Russia” at work and play.

So far 70pc of tickets have been sold, hence public access to some events will be on sale during the Games. Visitors who do attend will do so to a cacophony of continued reassurance about security.

Chernyshenko said: “I can assure everyone that Sochi will be one of the most security friendly games and all the procedures will be gentle and smooth and visible. Sochi, as a city, is the most secure on the planet.”

Looking forward to the climax of a remarkable seven-year journey since Sochi’s surprise award success in Guatemala City, he added: “The stage is perfectly set for the stars to step forward at our state of the art venues.

“More than 160,000 spectator passes have already been issued and . . . the focus is on celebrating the excellence of the athletes who come to compete and take home the medals – though maybe a lot will stay here.

“We are fully ready, in great shape, with everything in place. Everyone is satisfied that we have delivered on what we have promised. Some IOC members have already arrived and one of the most demanding has already told me: ‘Dmitry, everything so far is perfect.’

“I wish we can maintain such a standard so let the Games begin.”


Keir Radnedge has been covering football worldwide for more than 40 years, writing 33 books, from tournament guides to comprehensive encyclopedias, aimed at all ages.

His journalism career included The Daily Mail for 20 years as well as The Guardian and other national newspapers and magazines in the UK and around the world. He is a former editor, and remains a lead columnist, with World Soccer, generally recognised as the premier English language magazine on global football.

In addition to his writing, Keir has been a regular analyst for BBC radio and television, Sky Sports, Sky News, Aljazeera and CNN.

Keir Radnedge's Twitter: @KeirRadnedge

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