Inside Lines: IOC put Putin lackey in his place over threat to free speech


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The Independent Online

The new International Olympic Committee president, Thomas Bach, has flexed his muscles on the eve of the Winter Olympics by forcing the Russian hosts to back-pedal on their attempt to prevent athletes from expressing political views in press conferences.

Earlier last week Vladimir Putin's man in charge of Sochi 2014, Dmitry Chernyshenko, had contradicted Bach's assertion that competitors had the right to free speech at such gatherings, saying they would not be allowed to "express those views that are not related to the sport". But after Bach promptly made it clear that the IOC and not the Russians make the Olympic rules, Chernyshenko has retreated, claiming he was "misunderstood".

"Sochi 2014 are fully aligned with the position of the IOC," he acknowledged. Bach had explained that while protests on the medal podium are banned, "athletes enjoy the freedom of speech, so if in a press conference they wanted to make a political statement then they are absolutely free to do so."

Some surely will, particularly over the gay-rights issue, though whether any Britons are among them seems unlikely. So far none have joined the 50 current and former Olympians who have signed a petition urging Russia to repeal their widely condemned new anti-gay laws ahead of the Games. Among competitors publicly backing the campaign are the American snowboarding gold medallist Seth Wescott, the Canadian biathlete Rosanna Crawford and the entire four-man Australian bobsled team.

Significantly, the UK government are helping fund this and other gay-rights campaigns in Russia, with the Culture Secretary, Maria Miller, saying: "It is the right thing to do".

Taking the piste

Channel 4's winter-sports reality show Jump seems to have left viewers and critics cold. There's no doubting the courage of the contestants and the hazards involved – Sir Steve Redgrave is now nursing a broken hand and badly bruised ribs.

Redgrave has sports cred, but the sight of so many C-list showbiz sorts pratfalling on skis and skates hardly whets the appetite for the real thing, which begins on Saturday and which the BBC must hope will be taken more seriously. So it seems surprising that they are supplementing their daily live coverage with a BBC 2 programme billed as a "comedy entertainment show... a fun take on a huge sporting event".

Hosted by QI regular Alan Davies, Apres-Ski will air on Fridays at 10pm. Davies promises "to take an entertaining look at the Games". Or in other words, take the piste...

More mouth from Fury

Heavyweight boxer Tyson Fury, whose grossly offensive tweeting has twice seen him hauled before the beaks at the British Boxing Board of Control, continues his disorderly conduct.

At a media conference in London last week to promote a proposed summer rematch with Dereck Chisora, he launched a typically foul-mouthed assault on the now-retired David Haye, who twice pulled out of their proposed fight with injuries, calling him "a f***ing b**** p****". However, even worse in my view was his mocking of the former world champion Vitali Klitschko. "Good riddance grandpa robot," he sneered in the direction of the brave Ukrainian who has abandoned the ring to fight for the freedom of his country.

Should Fury ever attain even a touch of the class, dignity and ability that Vitali and his brother Wladimir have shown inside the ring and out, he might learn the meaning of one word which eludes his intemperate vocabulary: respect.