IOC leaders to review Sochi preparations, future of Olympic movement
International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach, attends the opening of the executive board's meeting, at the IOC headquarters, in Lausanne, Switzerland, Tuesday, Dec. 10, 2013. (AP Photo/Keystone,Jean-Christophe Bott)
Stephen Wilson, The Associated Press
Published Friday, January 31, 2014 9:11AM EST
Last Updated Friday, January 31, 2014 9:44AM EST
SOCHI, Russia -- Five days before the opening ceremony, new IOC President Thomas Bach will convene his inner cabinet to review final preparations and security plans for the Sochi Games and push his agenda for future policy changes in the Olympic movement.
Bach will chair a scheduled two-day meeting of his 14-member executive board in Sochi starting Sunday, the first stage of a weeklong gathering of the International Olympic Committee on the eve of Russia's first Winter Games.
Bach, a 60-year-old German, will be overseeing his first Olympics as IOC president. The former Olympic fencer was elected in September to succeed Belgium's Jacques Rogge, who served for 12 years.
The buildup to Sochi has been overshadowed by Western criticism of Russia's law banning gay "propaganda" and the threat of terrorist attacks by Islamic insurgents from the North Caucasus region. The pair of suicide bombings in late December that killed 34 people in Volgograd, 400 miles (600 kilometres) from Sochi, has ramped up the security worries ahead of the Olympics.
The Sochi organizing committee will be reporting to the IOC board on Sunday, and Russia's security operation will be high on the agenda. Russia is deploying more than 50,000 police and soldiers to protect the games, the biggest security apparatus in Olympic history.
IOC leaders, who have repeatedly expressed confidence in Russia's ability to secure the games, will be looking for last-minute reassurances.
"I understand the sports facilities are ready and magnificent and I hope that that the necessary security operation can be managed in such a way that safe games are delivered with a happy Olympic ambience," IOC vice-president Craig Reedie of Britain told The Associated Press.
Sochi organizing committee leader Dmitry Chernyshenko said this week that the host city was the "most secure venue at the moment on the planet." He said security measures would not be obtrusive or detract from the Olympic atmosphere for athletes and spectators.
"You can be sure the Russians will be doing everything to welcome everybody and make everybody feel comfortable," Bach told reporters this week.
President Barack Obama, meanwhile, said he believes the Olympics will be safe. He told CNN that the U.S. is co-ordinating with Russia and officials have looked at the Russian security plans.
Bach is expected to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin next week before the opening of the games on Friday. The two men met last year in Sochi when Bach visited the host city.
Organizers say the venues -- the indoor arenas in the Olympic Park on the Black Sea coast and the snow facilities in the nearby mountains -- are all ready to go. They were built from scratch in a massive building project whose cost has soared to an Olympic record $51 billion, a figure that includes long-term investments in road, railways, hotels and other infrastructure.
"There are last touches to be made in the last couple of days, but this is not new," Bach said. "I think overall we can say Sochi is ready to welcome the best winter athletes of the world."
The impact of Russia's anti-gay law is also likely to be discussed in the meeting between the IOC and Sochi organizers. Russia has repeatedly said the law will not discriminate against gay athletes or spectators at the games.
The IOC has reminded athletes to comply with Rule 50 in the Olympic Charter, which states: "No kind of demonstration or political, religious or racial propaganda is permitted in any Olympic sites, venues or other areas."
Bach said, while athletes cannot demonstrate on the podium, they are free to express their opinions at news conferences. Chernyshenko initially took issue with Bach, saying athletes could not speak out at press conferences, but later backed off.
Also reporting to the IOC executive board will be Brazilian organizers of the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. IOC leaders are concerned about the construction delays and other organizational issues dogging Rio's preparations, underlined by Bach's visit to Brazil last week to remind organizers they have "no day to lose."
Sochi and Rio organizers will also deliver updates to the full IOC general assembly when it holds its three-day session in Sochi starting Wednesday.
Most of the session, however, will be set aside for debate on Bach's vision for the future of the IOC and the Olympics. Bach has launched his "Olympic Agenda 2020" to push through possible changes in the bidding process, the sports program, the 70-year age limit for IOC members and other areas. The IOC is also considering creating an Olympic TV channel.
The board members held a four-day "brainstorming session" convened by Bach in Montreux, Switzerland, in December. They will now put the issues up for wider discussion by the 100-plus IOC members, with recommendations to be submitted for approval at an extraordinary session on Dec. 6-7 in Monaco.