“The flame lit today by the Greek sun takes on this responsibility for a peaceful celebration here and now; the torches will carry it into the Olympic future,” Bach said in a speech he delivered before the lighting of the Olympic flame in Ancient Olympia, Greece. “Thus the Olympic Torch Relay will be a messenger for the Olympic values of excellence, friendship and respect without any form of discrimination.”
Russian National Olympic Committee President Vitaly Smirnov, 2014 Winter Olympics Organizing Committee CEO Dmitry Chernyshenko and Sochi Mayor Anatoly Pakhomov are among those who attended the ceremony. The torch will travel across Russia before it arrives in Sochi for the start of the games on February 7.
“The Olympic message sees the global diversity of cultures, societies and life choices as a source of enrichment,” Bach said. “It accuses no one and it excludes no one. But it does require us all to defend and uphold the Olympic values in all the sports competitions; among all those taking part and at all the Olympic venues.”
“Only then can we use our positive message of tolerance and respect through fair play in sport to set an example for the harmonious development of humanity,” he added.
Bach’s comments come against the backdrop of growing outrage over Russia’s LGBT rights record that threatens to overshadow the Sochi games.
Actor and playwright Harvey Fierstein is among those who have called for a boycott of the Olympics. Author Dan Savage, Cleve Jones and other LGBT rights advocates have called for a boycott of Russian vodka.
Members of Queer Nation NY on September 23 interrupted the Metropolitan Opera’s opening night gala to protest Russian President Vladimir Putin and his government’s LGBT rights record that includes a law that bans gay propaganda to minors. They also targeted soprano Anna Netrebko and conductor Valery Gergiev for supporting Putin.
LGBT rights advocates in the U.S. and around the world last week expressed outrage over IOC Coordination Commission Chair Jean-Claude Killy’s comments over Russia’s gay propaganda law.
The Associated Press initially reported that Killy said during a Sochi press conference the IOC is “fully satisfied” the statute does not violate the Olympic Charter. An IOC spokesperson later told the Washington Blade that Killy said “as long as the Olympic Charter is respected, we are satisfied.”
“That is clearly not expressing any view on the law itself,” the Olympic body said. “Mr. Killy made it abundantly clear that the IOC never comments on national legislation.”
The Human Rights Campaign and COC Nederland, a Dutch LGBT advocacy group, are among the organizations that blasted Killy and the IOC.
Spanish IOC member Juan Antonio Samaranch Salisachs last week acknowledged during an interview with the news agency EFE that he shares LGBT advocates’ concerns over Russia’s gay propaganda law. He stressed, however, the Olympic body does not comment on any specific statute in a host country.
“The Olympic Charter is against any type of discrimination, and this includes without a doubt sexual orientation,” Samaranch told EFE. “I understand and share how the gay community may be concerned, but it is too harsh to ask us as the IOC to try and modify the laws of a country.”