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International Olympic Committee speaks out against using Sochi as ‘stage for political dissent’

February 4, 2014 at 6:43 PM EST
With the start of the 2014 Winter Games only days away, the president of the International Olympic Committee insisted that all countries respect the neutral, apolitical nature of the competition. That statement comes in the wake of international furor over a recently adopted Russian law that bans so-called gay propaganda. Jeffrey Brown reports.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: Finally tonight: another look at the Olympic Games which start later this week in Sochi, and the blowback surrounding a controversial Russian law.

Jeff is back with that story.

JEFFREY BROWN: The fanfare at a ceremony for the International Olympic Committee in Sochi had scarcely faded today when sharp words came from Thomas Bach, IOC president.

THOMAS BACH, International Olympic Committee: That sport can only contribute to development and peace if it’s not used as a stage for political dissent or for trying to score points in internal or external political contests. Have the courage to address your disagreements in a peaceful, direct political dialogue, and not on the backs of the athletes.

JEFFREY BROWN: It was a clear shot at national leaders who’ve shunned the Games over Russia’s ban on so-called gay propaganda.

THOMAS BACH: In the extreme, we had to see a few politicians whose contribution to the fight for a good cause consisted of publicly declining invitations they had not even received.

JEFFREY BROWN: Bach didn’t name names, but President Obama is among those staying away. Instead, he’s sending three openly gay athletes, tennis star Billie Jean King, figure skater Brian Boitano and hockey player Caitlin Cahow.

The furor began last June, when Russian lawmakers adopted a law they said was essential to protect the young.

ELENA MIZULINA, State Duma Deputy (through translator): It outlaws the spreading of information aimed at forming nontraditional sexual attitudes among children, attractiveness of nontraditional sexual relations, and a distorted perception of social equality between traditional and nontraditional sexual relations.

JEFFREY BROWN: The statute sparked outrage around the world. In Paris, demonstrators formed Olympic rings, holding images of alleged human rights abuses in Russia. And in Sweden, 2,000 people gathered to sing Russia’s national anthem under rainbow flags.

The video went viral on the Internet. In response, Russian President Vladimir Putin has insisted no athlete at the Games will be mistreated.

PRESIDENT VLADIMIR PUTIN, Russia (through translator): Of course, the Olympic Games will be held in full compliance with the Olympic Charter, without any discrimination on any basis.

JEFFREY BROWN: But Putin also raised hackles again in mid-January when he said this:

VLADIMIR PUTIN (through translator): We don’t hold detain people on the street. We don’t hold anyone responsible for those relations, but leave children in peace, please.

JEFFREY BROWN: IOC President Bach said today that Putin has again promised to observe Olympic values during the Games. They officially begin on Friday.