Thomas Bach Takes Over Olympics, Faces Russian Gay Test

Image: Thomas Bach Takes Over Olympics, Faces Russian Gay Test

Wednesday, 11 Sep 2013 12:18 PM

By Michael Mullins

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Thomas Bach, a former German gold medalist turned attorney, was named president of the International Olympic Committee on Tuesday.

The announcement comes amid growing concerns of protests at the upcoming Sochi Games – which will begin next February, involving athletes and spectators who support gay rights and oppose Russia's recently passed legislation that is widely perceived as being anti-gay.

The discriminatory law bans "propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations," and implements fines and other penalties for anyone who engages in acts that are perceived as promoting homosexuality, transsexuality and paedophilia. The law does not however define what constitutes "propaganda."

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In an attempt to calm fears expressed primarily in the West that gay athletes or others who outwardly opposed the law would be targeted during the Olympic Sochi Games, Russian authorities announced in August that such athletes would not be subject to the law.

Shortly after Bach was named Olympic Committee head, the new president took a phone call from Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, after which he told reporters, "We did not discuss the law."

The 59-year-old Bach was a former fencer who won gold in the 1976 summer Olympics in Montreal, Canada. Most recently as president of the German Olympic Committee, Bach headed Munich's unsuccessful bid for the 2018 Winter Olympics. The games will be played in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

Among the most pressing issues facing Bach as president will be how to handle demonstrations against the Russian law by athletes at the Sochi Games in February, The New York Times notes.

"The I.O.C. has to really have very clear rules on what you can do and not do," Gunilla Lindberg, a member of the I.O.C. executive board from Sweden, told The Times.

Rule 50 of the Olympic charter states that "no kind of demonstration or political, religious or racial propaganda is permitted" at any Olympic site.

Bach appeared to echo the sentiment of Rule 50 on Tuesday, maintaining that athletes should have the right to express their opinions outside the competition, however when in the arena, "You have to be protected from political controversies," he said, The Times reported.

On Tuesday Larry Probst, the chairman of the United States Olympic Committee and I.O.C. delegate, said "We will do everything to comply with I.O.C. regulations and the way they intend to handle any protests or demonstrations."

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Related stories:

Obama on Russia: No Olympic Boycott; Putin Like 'Bored Kid'

Russia Moves to Enact Anti-Gay Laws Nationwide

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