The Winter Olympics in Sochi should not be affected by the heightened political tensions between the United States and Russia over Edward Snowden, gay rights and other issues, a vice president of the IOC said this week.
“If there are political tensions arising, it wouldn’t be the first time before an Olympic Games, and in the main, Olympic Games overcome political tensions,” IOC vice president Craig Reedie of Britain told The Associated Press.
Reedie downplayed the impact of President Barack Obama’s decision to call off a Moscow summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin. The snub follows Russia’s decision to grant asylum to Snowden, the National Security Agency leaker, in defiance of Obama’s repeated requests.
Obama’s decision also reflects strained ties with Russia over missile defense, Syria, human rights and other issues. He canceled the summit with Putin exactly six months before the start of the Olympics in the Black Sea resort of Sochi in southern Russia.
“I think the games are quite clearly an occasion which encourages peace among nations and I’m pretty sure, despite pressures at the moment, that’s what will appear to the world in February next year,” Reedie said in a telephone interview.
Reedie also cited the global situation before the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, which were held just months after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks in New York and Washington.
“There must have been a question mark over that after what happened to New York, and the games went ahead,” Reedie said.
The International Olympic Committee official also said the 2008 Beijing Olympics were a “triumph” despite the pre-games controversies over China’s record on human rights, Tibet and press freedoms.
“It’s happened twice in recent years,” Reedie said. “I think it’s far too early to say what’s going on at the moment is going to be massively problematic.”
The buildup to the Sochi Games, scheduled for Feb. 7-23, has also been overshadowed recently by criticism of Russia’s new anti-gay legislation. The law, which was signed by Putin in June, bans “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations.”
Obama said he had “no patience” with countries which discriminate against gay people.
While some critics have called for a boycott of the Sochi Olympics, the IOC is quietly negotiating with Russian officials to make sure the law does not affect the games. Russia is also hosting the world track and field championships, which start Saturday in Moscow.
“I would hope wise counsel would be taken because they (Russia) have much to gain from a successful world athletics championships and have much to gain from a successful Olympic Games and (2018) World Cup,” Reedie said. “It is in their interests to have a decade of sport.”