Thursday, February 13, 2014

From BBC Two Olympic Coverage yesterday (Wed 12th Feb 2014 at about 4.30pm GMT)

Clare Balding: Now it's Day 5 of these Winter Olympics and touch wood, so far, everything is going pretty smoothly. But as you well know, the build-up was dominated by talk of corruption, by talk of security issues, and by talk of gay rights and the attitude of Russians to those in what President Putin calls "non-traditional relationships." He said everyone would be welcome. But he also said there is a ban in this country on homosexual propaganda and paedophilia - and he put them in the same sentence as if, somehow, they are both linked. So what do gay athletes, who are competing here, and indeed those who've come to spectate make of it all? The BBC's news correspondent, David Bond, has this -

The BBC then screened the video on this webpage.

Clare Balding: .. And Belle Brockhoff, goes on Sunday in the Snowboard Cross. We have, in fact already had two openly gay medalists - gold medalist in speed skating - that's Holland's Ireen Wüst and silver in the women's ski jumping yesterday for Daniela Iraschko-Stolz who married her partner and took her partner's surname and that's why it's double barrelled. Our sports editor, David Bond, joins me live now. You've been here for about a week, you've talked to a lot of people, you've been to a lot of places around Sochi. What is your view here of the attitude towards homosexuality?

David Bond: Well so far it's the dog that hasn't barked. Because we were led to believe there would be all sorts of protests, a great deal of controversy in the build-up, and yet I don't think we've really seen anything from any athlete, we haven't seen protests from anyone. There's a protest park about ten miles down the coast where we thought we'd see lots of action. In fact the only people that have been down there have been the Communist Party handing out a few leaflets. So far we haven't had anyone making any sort of overt political statement of any sort. Now that may change in the coming days when athletes start to finish their events and they feel that they're a bit freer to speak. But so far it just hasn't materialised.

Clare Balding: It is very rare at an Olympics for anyone to make a political protest - and in fact I think it is under the IOC rules banned on the podium or though they can make political statements in press conferences afterwards. And the '68 Mexico Olympics was a very very powerful sign on the podium from Tommie Smith and John Carlos. I think Tommie said afterwards in his autobiography - it wasn't a black power salute, it was a human rights salute that he was making.

David Bond talking to Clare Balding in Sochi on 12th Feb 2014

David Bond: Yeah, I think the fact that that is the only one we're still talking about all these years later - and of course things may change here in the coming days - I think that tells you that most athletes come here wanting to just concentrate on their performance. I mean if you look at the comments that Daniela Iraschko-Stolz, who won silver in the women's Ski Jump yesterday made, she said 'look there's no point in making any protests here because no-one in Russia is actually listening, no-one cares.' Now that might be the case but one senses there's a bit of pragmatism around now - that athletes just want to come here and they want to do well.

Clare Balding: But I quite liked Ireen Wüst's take on it. She said that President Putin came to say congratulations to her and she gave him a big cuddle and she made a point of saying two or three times 'he was happy to see me, he had to leave again, but I cuddled him.' And there she is (video clip) winning her gold medal which is in the 3000 metres Speedskating. Now it was very interesting though what Thomas Bach said his speech at the opening ceremony. He's the new president of the IOC. He seemed to deliberately use words that he knew would connect with the rest of the world - the more liberal world one might say. He used words like tolerance, he said we need to live in harmony and that he would not abide discrimination.

David Bond: Yeah, absolutely. I think that's probably the most politically loaded statement we've ever heard from an IOC president in an Opening Ceremony speech. Clearly still very carefully worded - you know the IOC have to be so diplomatic, especially when they come to countries like Russia. But nevertheless it was a very clear message to Russia and the rest of the world that discrimination won't be tolerated. The problem for the IOC president and the IOC is that they only have a very small window to apply any pressure. You know, while the games are on, Russia and Vladimir Putin will listen to the IOC. But the question is 'what happens once the Games are over, and this circus moves on.'

Clare Balding: Sport will come back here. There's gonna be a Formula One Grand Prix here in October. Obviously the Football World Cup is coming to Moscow. Whether any of those other organising bodies will apply anything like the pressure the IOC has done is a moot point.

David Bond: Well I think it's very helpful that the 2018 World Cup is coming to Russia, because clearly it will bring with it the same level of international media attention that the Olympics always brings with it. And I think that the key question is what the IOC does in future about trying to deal with this conundrum which it has. Because on the one hand it is just a sports body and says 'look we can't get involved in politics.' And yet they are a body with ethical and social values as laid down in the Olympic Charter. The problem is those worlds collide and I think these problems are going to continue coming back when they try and take the Games to places with difficult regimes.

Clare Balding: And that is a really interesting point, and I think generally speaking people are divided into two camps - either that the IOC should not choose countries in which human rights are an issue. But as we know from Beijing and obviously from here that's not the case - or whether they do pick the countries that bid and they pick the best bid, and they take the Games into those countries and try to influence through positive imagery, through sport, you know purity of sport. People will fall into two camps in terms of what they think about it. David, thank you so much for now.

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