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Olympics: Russia starts 100-day countdown to Sochi

31 October 2013, 16:39

Moscow - Russia began the 100 day countdown to the Winter Olympic Games in Sochi on Wednesday, with International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach promising an "unforgettable" event despite a growing controversy over gay rights.

The landmark date was marred for Russia's gay rights groups who said they had requested to discuss recent anti-gay legislation with Bach during his visit to Sochi, but he "refused".

"LGBT activists in Russia see this decision as yet another indicator that the Olympics are far from being a platform to uphold and promote the Olympic values," said the Russian LGBT Network in a statement.

The group was one of six organisations that sent a letter to the IOC ahead of the visit seeking to talk with Bach about "ways the IOC can ensure observance of the non-discrimination clause of the Olympic Charter" in Russia, where a new law now forbids disseminating "gay propaganda" to minors.

President Vladimir Putin, who has spearheaded the Olympic project in the southern city, promised during his meeting with Bach Tuesday that Sochi will be "comfortable" for all athletes and guests regardless of their ethnicity or sexual orientation.

But the activists said they are not convinced and are asking for specific assurances, such as the establishment of a "Pride House" in Sochi, their statement said, adding that Russia's new law already enforces a "discriminatory regime" in the entire country.

The IOC previously said that Sochi organisers have given sufficient guarantees that the Olympic Charter will be respected during the Games.

The organisation has offered to set up the meeting between Bach and the activists in Lausanne, Switzerland, and they are now "negotiating the schedules," the groups said.

Bach has been on a visit to Sochi, where he toured the sports sites and met with Putin. He said that "with only 100 days to go, the Sochi 2014 venues look impressive."

"I'm confident that the Olympians of 2014 will be able to go home with some unforgettable memories."

To mark the '100 days' event, Sochi organisers presented a new uniform designed for the event's staff and volunteers, while pictures of cheering crowds surrounding Olympic countdown clocks in Sochi and other cities were aired on television.

Russia's Central Bank unveiled its "Olympic" banknote of 100 rubles, the country's most popular denomination, which features a snowboarder leaping above the Olympic Park on the Black Sea shore.

State television showed 100 people standing to form the number 100 in the Olympic Park, jumping up and down and waving to the cameras.

Sochi, Russia's biggest seaside resort and spa on the Black Sea, which is popular with domestic tourists, was proposed as a Games host by Putin and has seen more than $50 billion (36 billion euros) invested over six years in infrastructure, hotels and sports venues.

But the project has also suffered its share of criticism from environmentalists and rights organisations, who accused the government of paying no regard to untouched mountain wilderness, rights of unpaid migrant workers, and properties of local residents.

"With the Sochi Games now 100 days away, time is running out for the IOC and president Bach to urge Russia to clean up its abusive laws and practices," said Jane Buchanan, associate director for Europe and Central Asia at Human Rights Watch.

"There can be no grand celebration of the upcoming Games when Russia has so blatantly trampled the Olympic principles of human dignity and non-discrimination."




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