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Volume 6 No. 232


IOC President Thomas Bach said that the Sochi Winter Olympics "are a purely sporting event which should not be used by uninvited guests to score political points," according to Karolos Grohmann of REUTERS. In a clear reference to world leaders who publicly refused to attend the first Winter Games in Russia, Bach said in an address in the host Russian city that "some of them had not even been invited." He said, "In the extreme we had to see a few politicians whose contribution to the fight for a good cause consisted of publicly declining invitations they had not even received." His comments "mark a sharp shift from predecessor Jacques Rogge, who avoided direct political references in issues relating to the Games." Bach: "To other political leaders we say: please understand what our responsibilities are and what your responsibilities are. Have the courage to address your disagreements in a peaceful direct political dialogue and not on the backs of the athletes. It is my deepest conviction that this would also be in your well-understood long-term political interest" (REUTERS, 2/4).

NO PLATFORM: REUTERS' Philip O'Connor wrote former Olympic champion and mayor of the mountain Olympic Village Svetlana Zhurova "has appealed to protesters not to use the Games as a platform to protest about gay rights in Russia." Zhurova, who won Gold in the 500m speed skating event at the 2006 Turin Games, said, "I have never seen (this) at any Olympic Games and I would call on the people who are going to protest, that it doesn't make sense." Zhurova said that "sexuality was irrelevant in the context of competition, and that gay and straight athletes would be treated equally" (REUTERS, 2/4). The SYDNEY MORNING HERALD reported Bach was asked "if the Olympic Charter needed revising in light of the controversial Russian anti-gay law that criminalises the promotion of 'non-traditional relations.''' He said that was "likely to be discussed in future meetings of IOC delegates." Bach: "The Olympic Charter is not set in stone. Of course we have to evolve and adapt to modern times" (SMH, 2/5).

The Austrian Olympic Committee (ÖSC) "received a letter stating that two of its athletes would be kidnapped during the Sochi Winter Olympics," according to KRONE. The targets of the threats were skier Bernadette Schild and skeleton pilot Janine Flock. ÖSC General Secretary Peter Mennel said, "The letter was delivered into our mailbox on Monday. We have immediately alerted the Federal Criminal Agency, which is investigating the case." Initial reports suggested that Bernadette Schild's older sister Marlies "was the target of the threat." It has not been made clear yet how "it came to this mix-up" (KRONE, 4/2). The London GUARDIAN reported Mennel said that "he discussed the matter with Flock as they were sharing a flight from Vienna to Sochi on Tuesday." He added that "she is not worried, she trusts in our security measures." Mennel also said that Austrian athletes "will be accompanied by task force Cobra" -- a special counter-terrorism unit -- when they leave the Olympic Village (GUARDIAN, 2/4). The EFE reported Mennel said that "only four people knew about the anonymous letter and it has not been determined how the information was leaked to the press" (EFE, 2/4).

Russia's state-run bank Vnesheconombank is to give an extension to investors at Sochi Olympics venues. RIA Novosti quoted Deputy PM Dmitry Kozak, who is in charge of the Sochi Olympics, as saying that Sochi investors will not have to make any credit payments until the fall of '15. Kozak said, "Let's see what revenues will be generated [from the Olympics] and in the fall of 2015 we'll make decisions.” The move comes in response to long-time complaints from Sochi investors, including Basic Element, Gazprom, Sberbank, Interros and other major corporations, that the Olympic venues are potentially loss-making and the government should extend privileges to the investors to keep them from incurring losses.

NOT FAR ENOUGH: The investors welcomed the decision, but said that the measure is not going to be sufficient. A Basic Elements spokesperson told SBD Global, “As investors, we are interested in restructuring of Vnesheconombank loans and welcome the extension of the repayment date to late 2015. However, we believe that just extensions on loan repayments are not sufficient. In addition to that, a program of subsidizing interest rates on all Vnesheconombank loans over the entire loan period should be adopted.” He added that tax privileges on the operation of Olympic venues should also be introduced. Vnesheconombank extended 241 billion rubles ($6.8B) in loans to Sochi investors. In addition to sports venues, huge investments were made in the transport and hotel infrastructure.
Vladimir Kozlov is a writer in Moscow.

Russian President Vladimir Putin "has arrived in Sochi to welcome heads of state and top Olympic officials to the Winter Games," according to Roland Oliphant of the London TELEGRAPH. Putin will meet with IOC President Thomas Bach on Tuesday afternoon and "will hold a series of meetings with visiting world leaders in the next few days." The Kremlin said that it expects "more than 40 heads of state to attend" Friday’s Opening Ceremony (TELEGRAPH, 2/4). RADIO FREE EUROPE reported Putin said that the Winter Olympics will leave what he called "a grandiose imprint." Speaking at a welcoming ceremony, Putin said the Games had already had a big impact on the development of the area, making it "more beautiful, more comfortable." Putin said that the Sochi region's environmental conditions "had improved fourfold since the beginning of preparations for the Olympics" (RFE, 2/4).

HOTEL PROBLEMS: In London, Shaun Walker wrote a "distraught" journalist wailed, "Someone has been sleeping in my bed!" after "finally checking into his Sochi hotel room after a long journey only to find the bed already slept in, presumably by construction workers who were still rushing to complete the rest of the hotel." With numbered blocks and room fixtures still being put in place, the complex "is far from ready, though the games are to start this weekend." A receptionist said, "Your room is still under construction. They are literally finishing, the keys are literally coming now." As media from across the world streamed into Sochi, with just 72 hours left until the Olympic torch is lit and the Games officially opened, construction work that "should have been completed months ago was still underway." As the pack of int'l journalists settled down to work, the same receptionist "was asked for a wi-fi password by writers hoping to file their stories." She looked alarmed and said, "We have plans for the introduction of wi-fi in the rooms in the foreseeable future" (GUARDIAN, 2/4). THE ATLANTIC's Mark Byrnes reported persistent rain "is to blame for many of the delays." IOC spokesperson Mark Adams insisted that the construction woes "aren't as bad as they seem," telling reporters, "every Games has some last minute issues. These are being handled, and handled well." The organizing committee said that any media member given an unfinished room "will receive new accommodations" (THE ATLANTIC, 2/4).

LIGHTING THE CAULDRON: R-SPORT reported Putin "rubbished reports on the alleged identity of the athlete who will light the Olympic cauldron" at the Opening Ceremony. Well-connected Russian socialite Ksenia Sobchak, "once monikered Russia's Paris Hilton," had tipped Olympic Gold Medal-winning rhythmic gymnast Alina Kabaeva "for a role in the lighting of the flame." Asked whether he had heard the rumor, Putin said, "I'm aware of it. [Press secretary Dmitry] Peskov told me, but these are just more spoof stories." Kabaeva, now a member of parliament for the ruling United Russia party, "was once romantically linked by tabloids with Putin, who vehemently denied the alleged affair" (R-SPORT, 2/4).

The slopestyle course that drew complaints from some riders ahead of the Sochi Winter Olympics "is set to be modified after Norwegian medal hope Torstein Horgmo broke his collarbone in practice" Monday and is out of the Games. Athletes "had expressed concern about the steep jumps at the Rosa Khutor Extreme Park course even before the official practice began Monday, days ahead of the first qualifying runs Thursday in the men’s slopestyle" (AP, 2/4). Int'l Ski Federation (FIS) organizers blamed Torstein Horgmo's injury "on the jump he was attempting rather than the course at the Rosa Khutor Extreme Park where the event is due to make its Olympic debut." FIS official Roberto Moresi said, "He was just trying a really hard trick" (REUTERS, 2/3). ... North Korea "will miss the Winter Olympic Games for the first time in 12 years." An official with the IOC said that no North Korean "has qualified for the Feb. 7-23 Sochi Winter Games in Russia." The official added that North Korean athletes "also failed to earn special 'wild cards' for the Olympics" as granted by int'l sports federations (YONHAP, 2/4).