The International Olympic Committee on Thursday declared Russia’s “magnificent” Olympic venues in Sochi were ready for the 2014 Winter Games, adding that Russia’s recent ban on homosexual “propaganda” did not violate the Olympic charter.
“Everything is really magnificent,” said IOC coordination committee chairman Jean-Claude Killy at the committee’s final conference before the grand sports event kicks off in the southern resort city on February 7.
“Sochi is not late by any means,” the French ex-skier said, adding that only “details” remain to be completed and calling on organisers to “use every hour that remains.”
Killy also dismissed concerns about Russia’s controversial law banning so-called “gay propaganda”, which punishes people for disseminating information about homosexuality to minors.
The law was discussed for a long time, but in the end the Russian authorities assured the IOC that there would be “no segregation” on the Olympic territory, said Killy.
“As long as the Olympic Charter is respected, we are satisfied,” said the renowned Frenchman, who won three downhill skiing gold medals at the 1968 Winter Olympics.
Killy also noted that the IOC “is not supposed to discuss the laws” of a particular country where Games are held.
Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Kozak argued that the law “received excessive attention” and insisted there would be no discrimination at the Games.
But Kozak also warned that both homosexuals and heterosexuals, whom he referred to as “people with traditional orientation”, could face prosecution if the law was broken.
“If people with traditional orientation propagate non-traditional sex among minors, they will also be held responsible, so one cannot talk about discrimination here,” Kozak said.
Foreigners found guilty of violating the law face fines and the possibility of being placed under administrative arrest from up to 15 days, with their subsequent deportation.
The law has sparked US boycotts of Russian vodka, criticism from pop stars such as Madonna, and a vocal Internet campaign for Russia to be stripped of its right to host the Games.
Sochi Organising Committee head Dmitry Chernyshenko also denied reports that the law caused the celebrity singer Cher to turn down the invitation to perform at the opening ceremony in Sochi.
“We don’t know anything about Cher’s intentions to come here,” he said.
“The Sochi Organising Committee… was not planning to invite this popular singer.”
Kozak echoed the IOC’s enthusiasm for the preparations, saying “Russia… has met all of its obligations.”
“Today we can confidently say that all of the responsibilities have been met, all doubts have been rejected, and there are no problems with the city infrastructure and modernisation of the whole city,” he said.
Addressing another frequent criticism, Killy said he was not particularly concerned by the vast amount of money spent on the event, which he said was comparable to other Winter Games.
“The operating budget for the Olympic Games is almost the same as the operating budget of the (2010) Games in Vancouver,” he said.
Officials have reported spending more than $50 billion of state and corporate money on infrastructure improvements in Sochi and the surrounding area over the past five years, a record for any Games.
But Kozak said that Olympic-related expenditures amount to just seven billion dollars.
Killy’s visit came as torrential rain battered Sochi, swelling rivers and submerging some of the new roads built around the southern resort, whose selection following a strong lobbying effort by Russian President Vladimir Putin came as a big surprise.
Earlier this week, Sochi’s main airport appealed on travellers to select train service to city, while local authorities cancelled school Wednesday.
A flood sirens went off in many neighbourhoods, while several homes in northern Sochi were briefly evacuated.
The “historical” downpour served as “a fantastic test” for the infrastructure, Killy said of the weather conditions.
“No damage, nowhere, whatsoever,” he said.