The president of the International Olympic Committee said that Russia has “delivered on its promises” in its preparation for the Winter Games in Sochi, but stipulated that is not within the organization’s power to act as a “world government.”
Thomas Bach, who was named head of the nonprofit organization in September, told Agence France-Presse that the power of the IOC to exert political pressure on hosting countries is overestimated by the public.
"The IOC is not a world government that can impose measures on a sovereign state," he clarified Monday. "People expect that the IOC can solve all the problems of a country... We have no mandate for this."
Bach brushed off concerns that the antigay legislation in Russia that has sparked international controversy would be an issue in the upcoming games, which are set to take place February 7 through 23.
"These kind of discussions show the relevance of the Olympic Games. It shows how much interest there is in the world,” stated Bach, who said that the controversy has allowed the IOC to demonstrate both its limits and powers as an organization. "The Games turn a focus on the country and we appreciate these kinds of discussions."
"Our message is to send the message of a free society, without discrimination, to the world,” he added. “I hope the world will understand this message."
Bach also confirmed that U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon would deliver a keynote address at an IOC session preceding the Winter Games. The speech will speak pointedly about Russia's antigay legislation.
"The participants in the Sochi Games may carry the flags of many nations, but they come together under the shared banner of equality, fair play, mutual respect and non-discrimination,” Ki-moon said in a statement released Friday.
The duties of the IOC include the organization of the Olympic Games and the upholding of the Olympic Charter, which defines the rules, laws, and spirit of the international sporting event. According to Bach, President Vladimir Putin has assured the organization that these laws would be upheld.
Bach’s remarks echo a September statement made by the IOC, in which Jean-Claude Killy, chairman of the IOC Coordination Commission, claimed that the organization was “completely satisfied” with Russia’s promises to secure equal rights, despite its antigay laws.
"If this law doesn’t violate the IOC’s charter, then the charter is completely meaningless," said Human Rights Campaign president Chad Griffin in a response to Killy last year. "The safety of millions of LGBT Russians and international travelers is at risk, and by all accounts the IOC has completed neglected its responsibility to Olympic athletes, sponsors and fans from around the world. The IOC and its new president, Thomas Bach, are putting the good reputation of the Olympic Games and its corporate sponsors in jeopardy."