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#Sochi Winter #Olympics will be safe from #terrorism, says #IOC president.
The International Olympic Committee president, #Thomas #Bach, has said there are no regrets from his organisation over awarding the Winter Games to Sochi and urged athletes and fans to trust the Russian authorities to keep them safe, despite heightened security fears.
More than 37,000 Russian police and troops are erecting a so-called ring of steel around the Black Sea resort following terrorist threats and suicide bombings that killed 34 people in Volgograd last month.
"We have full confidence in the Russian authorities," said Bach, who will oversee his first Olympics as IOC president since taking over from Jacques Rogge in September. "Security is the responsibility of the host country and we know the Russian services are working closely with different international services to ensure that participants and spectators in the Games feel safe and secure."
Whitehall officials have warned in internal briefing documents that other terrorist attacks are "very likely to occur" in Russia either before or during the Sochi Games, naming a Caucasus group, Imarat Kavkaz, as the most serious threat. US security officials have also raised concerns.
Tackled about another of the controversies that have dominated the buildup to the Winter Olympics, the most expensive in history at $51bn (£30.8bn), Bach said athletes would be censured if they protested against Russia's anti-gay laws from the medal podium. Instead, he said, they should make their views clear in press conferences.
"It is very clear the Games cannot be used as a stage for political demonstrations, however good the cause may be," said Bach. "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."
Pressed by the Guardian on whether that meant athletes should speak out in press conferences, rather than on the podium, Bach said: "If you are drawing this conclusion, I would not say anything against it."
Campaigners have warned that the new laws, which forbid "gay propaganda" aimed at under-18s, have led to an increase in homophobic attacks throughout Russia. The mayor of Sochi, Anatoly Pakhomov, on Monday night told the BBC's Panorama that homosexuality was "not accepted" in the Caucasus and that "we don't have them in our city".
Bach said: "The IOC's policy is very clear. Both the government and the Russian president have assured us the Olympic charter will be respected and that during the Games there will be no discrimination for any reason."
The IOC president also dismissed concerns that the spiralling cost of Vladimir Putin's showpiece, and corruption allegations around the construction of the venues and infrastructure, would damage the IOC's image or put others off from bidding for future Winter Games.
One activist, Alexei Navalny, has launched a new website detailing the litany of corruption allegations surrounding the Games, claiming that the 10 Olympic venues cost more than twice as much as necessary. Bach said the IOC was "standing against any form of corruption".
Recent reports in the German media have also highlighted allegations that thousands of migrant construction workers who helped to build the venues have gone unpaid.
"The IOC addressed these problems and concerns with the organising committee. As a follow-up to these discussions you could see the agreement reached with Russia's deputy prime minister and the ombudsman for human rights in Russia to pay 227m roubles [£3.95m] in outstanding payments," said Bach.
While campaigning to become president, Bach promised to reduce the scale of the summer and winter Olympics and make them cheaper to bid for. But he insisted that countries must also be free to use the Games as the catalyst to regenerate a region or boost investment in infrastructure.
He said they were aiming for "big and important transformations of their society and their infrastructure, where the Games just serve as a catalyst".
Despite the litany of controversies that have dominated the build up to the Games, Bach said he was confident they would die away once the sporting action began. And there was one area of concern, at least, where he said fears could be allayed.
"The weather is fine and we have plenty of snow. Even more is expected by the end of the week," he said.
Fears that there wouldn't be enough snow in the warmest ever venue for a Winter Olympics had led organisers to stockpile tonnes and store it under special blankets.
Russian army soldiers outside Sochi airport before the city hosts the Winter Olympics. Photograph: Pavel Golovkin/AP
- 79 days ago via site