IOC says Sochi set for Games, Russian anti-gay law not a barrier
SOCHI, Russia (Reuters) - The International Olympic Committee said on Thursday it had assessed that a Russian law banning "gay propaganda" does not violate its charter and the city of Sochi would be ready to host the 2014 Winter Games.
An IOC delegation said after inspecting facilities in the Black Sea resort that, despite flooding this week and work that has turned much of the city into a muddy construction site, the "magnificent" sporting venues were already completed.
"We often say that there is no time to waste as the clock ticks down to the opening ceremony, and this still stands true," said Jean-Claude Killy, head of the team which visited Sochi for the last time before the Games start in February.
"But to see how far the local organizers have come over the last six years is quite simply remarkable - the competition venues are ready; the spirit of the Games is awakening here; and the athletes, spectators and all others who visit next February can expect a fabulous experience."
He said a "few minor things" still needed to be done but added: "Everything is very impressive."
Killy, a former Olympics gold medalist skier for France, also dismissed concerns about a law in force since June which bans the spread of homosexual propaganda among minors but is seen by critics as discriminatory.
"As long as the Olympic Charter is respected, we are satisfied. This is the case," Killy told a news conference.
The announcement angered civil rights campaigners, who accused the IOC of abandoning the LGBT community.
"If this law doesn't violate the IOC's charter, then the charter is completely meaningless," said Chad Griffin, President of Human Rights Campaign, an advocacy group that works to ensure equal rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.
"The safety of millions of LGBT Russians and international travelers is at risk, and by all accounts the IOC has completely neglected its responsibility to Olympic athletes, sponsors and fans from around the world."
SHOWCASE FOR PUTIN
Critics say the law in effect bars all gay rights rallies and could be used to prosecute anyone voicing support for homosexuals. Supporters say it will help protect children.
The legislation is part of a broader attempt by Putin to win over Russians in the mostly conservative country following protests against his rule among urban and often middle-class voters over his return to the Kremlin in May 2012.
Polls by the independent Levada Center research group show a majority of Russians approve of the legislation and nearly 40 percent believe gay people need treatment.
Putin has promised nothing less than a "brilliant" Games which will showcase how far Russia has come since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, and has staked a lot of national and personal prestige on the Games.
Thirteen official sites have been built, including a stadium that can house 40,000 people, plus facilities for ice hockey, skiing, snowboarding and skating. About 120,000 visitors are expected during the Games.
The cost of hosting the Olympics is expected to rise to $50 billion, much more than expected initially and more than any other Olympics.
Rights activists have also criticized a Sochi security decree Putin signed last month that prohibits demonstrations not connected to the Olympics during a period of more than two months that encompasses February 7-23 Games.