IOC president: ‘It’s time it finally starts’
SOCHI, Russia — The sun’s out. The athletes are ready. Let’s get this show started.
That was the message Friday from IOC President Thomas Bach, who was eager to attend the opening ceremony of the Sochi Olympics and put aside the concerns over security and gay rights that have dogged the buildup to the games.
“From what I hear, we can expect a spectacular show,” he said. “Maybe I will have goose bumps all night long.”
Bach, presiding over an Olympics for the first time since his election as IOC president September, said the world will now turn its focus to the spectacle of the games and the performances of the athletes.
“It’s time it finally starts,” he said. “The games are getting kicked off. Everything has been prepared. The athletes are really longing for the moment to start. They want to see the Olympic flame over the Olympic stadium and they want their competition to begin.”
And, what’s more, the weather is cooperating.
“The sun is shining on the games and on the athletes,” Bach said.
He spoke at a news conference after the close of a three-day IOC session, which reviewed the preparations for Sochi as well as debating ideas for future changes in IOC operations.
Bach and his inner circle held their first daily coordination commission meeting Friday with Sochi organizers to review the running of the games. Among other things, organizers have been scrambling to resolve issues with hotels that are not ready.
“Everything is going pretty smoothly,” Bach told the delegates. “As always in the first days of the games, there is a small hiccup here or there, but nothing really substantial so far. We can look to tonight full of anticipation and excitement and hope that we will have a great opening ceremony for a great Olympic Games.”
Russia has mounted a massive security operation to guard the games, deploying tens of thousands of police and military personnel, as well as naval ships, drone aircraft and anti-missile batteries.
The games come amid threats of attacks by Islamic insurgents from the North Caucasus. A pair of suicide bombings in Volgograd in late December killed 34 people.
Asked about Sochi being the first Olympics facing a direct threat, Bach laughed out loud.
“I’m really sorry but you (cannot forget) how many threats there were on each of the Olympic Games before,” he said. “We had threats on Sydney, we had threats on Athens. Maybe you remember the situation in Salt Lake City. There were many so you cannot single out these games in this way.”
Bach recalled the tight security he experienced as an athlete at the 1976 Montreal Games, four years after the attack by Palestinian gunmen that left 11 Israeli athletes and coaches dead. Bach won a gold medal in fencing for West Germany in Montreal.
“There, security was much more obvious and closer to you than it is here now,” he said. “If you speak with the athletes in the Olympic Village, they all feel very comfortable. I’m absolutely sure this Olympic atmosphere will spill over form the Olympic Village to the audience and the games.”
The Sochi Games have been also surrounded by an international outcry against the Russian law banning gay “propaganda” among minors. Bach reiterated that Russia would apply the Olympic Charter, which prohibits discrimination of any kind.
Bach said he had spoken with a number of “demonstrations” at the games. He repeated that athletes are free to speak on political issues at news conferences, but are not allowed to make any political statements or gestures on the medal stand or at Olympic venues.
“I can tell you that the athletes I spoke to, they appreciate this very much,” he said.