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Sochi Games leaders' boycott an 'ostentatious gesture' says IOC chief

PR dla Zagranicy
Peter Gentle 07.02.2014 09:20
Russia boasts 65 foreign leaders attending the Sochi Games opening ceremony, Friday, though many western leaders, including Poland's president will not be among them.


Ukraine's embattled president Viktor Yanukovich and president of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko - often referred to as the 'last dictator in Europe' - will be among the heads of state attending the Winter Olympic Games opening ceremony today as will China's president, Xi Jinping, Japan's prime minister Shinzo Abe as well as the UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon.

"There will be three times more leaders [in Sochi] than in Vancouver [where the 2010 games took place]," Dmitry Chernyshenko, head of Russia's Olympic Committee has said.

Two and a half thousand athletes from 88 countries will be parading around the Fisht Stadium in Sochi on Friday afternoon but they will not be watched by many western leaders, including Barack Obama, Germany's Angela Merkel, British prime minister David Cameron and president of Poland Bronislaw Komorowski.

Thomas Bach, head of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) accused Barack Obama, Angela Merkel and others not attending of making an "ostentatious gesture" that "costs nothing but makes international headlines".

Speaking at a meeting with President Putin and IOC officials, Bach said: "We are grateful to those who respect the fact that sport can only contribute to the development of peace if it's not used as a stage for political dissent, or for trying to score points in internal or external contexts."

The no-show by some of the West's leaders has been interpreted as being a snub to the Kremlin over its human rights record - including draconian anti-gay and blasphemy laws - but President Komorowski was at pains to point out in December, when it was announced he would not be going to Sochi, that his non-appearance is not a political boycott.

"I can already see that the Sochi Games are raising a lot of emotions, and not just sporting ones but also political. But I have rules on my contact with Polish Olympians," Komorowski said, adding that he sees the athletes before international sporting events to wish them luck, and then after the tournaments to congratulate them.

Komorowski said that he has not attended any big international sporting events abroad since being elected head of state in 2010, accept the Euro 2012 football championships, which Poland co-hosted with Ukraine.

The opening ceremony will start at 20:14 local time (17:14 CET).

Security in Sochi, on the Black Sea coast will be tight, after the Imarat Kavkaz Islamist group in the North Caucasus claimed responsibility for suicide bombings in the nearby city of Volgograd. (pg)

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tags: Sochi 2014
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