Protest in press room not podium, says IOC

Mon Jan 27, 2014 10:53am EST
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By Karolos Grohmann

(Reuters) - Athletes at next month's Sochi Winter Olympics may be punished for making statements on the podium against Russia's anti-gay law or human rights record but can do so at news conferences without fear of sanction, the IOC said.

Thomas Bach, president of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), explained that under the Games charter political protests and demonstrations at venues are not allowed.

"It is very clear the Games cannot be used as a stage for political demonstrations however good the cause may be," Bach told a media conference call on Monday.

"The IOC will take, if necessary, individual decisions based on individual cases. It is also clear on the other hand the athletes enjoy freedom of speech so if in a press conference they wanted to make a political statement they are absolutely free to do so."

Asked whether he was urging athletes to make their point at news conferences rather than the medals podium, Bach said: "If you are drawing this conclusion I would not say anything against it".

Russia has caused considerable controversy with a recent anti-gay propaganda law that critics say curbs the rights of homosexuals in the country.

In a clear message to Moscow, U.S. President Barack Obama included three openly gay athletes in his official Olympic delegation and Britain said it would send a minister responsible for its same-sex marriage laws.

Moscow expects more than 6,000 athletes from 85 countries and hundreds of thousands of sports fans in Sochi.   Continued...

International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Thomas Bach kicks a soccer ball during a visit to Maracana stadium in Rio de Janeiro January 22, 2014. REUTERS/Ricardo Moraes