Top Russian Official Says Olympic Athletes Cannot Protest

Top Russian Official Says Olympic Athletes Cannot Protest

Russia's chief executive of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi wants to clarify that athletes are not allowed to protest the Olympic host nation's laws — despite a statement Monday from the International Olympic Committee president that indicated Olympians would be free to do so. 

On Monday, IOC president Thomas Bach told reporters that Olympians would have "freedom of speech" and be allowed to express their political beliefs during press conferences, but would be censured if they tried to make such statements while on the medal podium, according to The Guardian. Bach did cite the Olympic Charter's Principle 50, which bans demonstrations or "political, religious, or racial propaganda" in any official Olympic venue. 

But Russia's highest-ranking Olympic official, who was reportedly hand-selected by President Vladimir Putin, said Bach was misunderstanding the Olympic Charter and Russian law, which bans "propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations" in areas visible to minors. 

"I don’t think [athletes] are allowed by the Charter to express those views that are not related to the sport at the press conference room," Dmitry Chernyshenko told reporters on a conference call Thursday, according to Reuters

"What I would call the Sochi speakers' corner has been organized in Sochi city so that everybody can express themselves," Chernyshenko said, according to Reuters' translation. 

Indeed, a "protest zone" has been announced where demonstrations pre-approved by the Russian government can take place — though that area is seven miles from the nearest Olympic venue, and demonstrations are not allowed to directly pertain to the Olympics, according to the Kremlin's rules establishing the area. It is unclear if this is the area to which Chernyshenko was referring Thursday, or if there will be a separate "speakers' corner" closer to the Sochi city limits.

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