The new President of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) Thomas Bach has shown on the eve of the Sochi Winter Games that he is not to be tangled with.
Bach has forced the Russians to back pedal from allowing athletes to express political opinions in press conferences.
Last week Vladimir Putin’s local man in charge of the Games Dimitry Chernyshenko stated that athletes would not be allowed to “express views that are not related to the sport.” This was in spite of Bach’s earlier assurance that athletes were entitled to free speech.
It is believed that Bach and the IOC have made it quite clear that they make the rules and not the Russians and Mr. Chernyshenko has done a backflip worthing of the aerial skiing event. He claimed there had been a misunderstanding.
Protests will not be allowed on the medal podium, but athletes have been told they have the right to free speech at a press conference and if they wish to make a political statement they “are absolutely free to do so.”
It is expected that some athletes will speak out on the gay rights issue in Russia. Many Olympians from past games have signed a petition urging Russia to repeal their widely condemned anti-gay laws, but it is believed very few participating athletes have signed this for fear of being prevented entry into the country.
American snowboarder Seth Wescott and Canadian Bi-athlete Rosanna Crawford along with the four man Australian bobsled team are the only known competitors to have openly backed the campaign.
It will be interesting to see if Russia tries to limit freedom of speech when they host the FIFA World Cup, and whether FIFA takes as strong a stance as the IOC. Time will surely tell.