WASHINGTON — Moments after saying that the Olympics send a message “embracing human diversity” and unity, the head of the International Olympic Committee, Thomas Bach, told the crowd at the Winter Olympics opening ceremony in Sochi that world leaders should not place political disagreements “on the back of these athletes.”
“Olympic sports unite the people,” Bach told the crowd to applause, saying that Olympic athletes show the world that “it is possible, even as competitors, to live together under one roof in harmony with tolerance and without any form of discrimination for whatever reason.”
He did not, however, specifically reference LGBT rights — as the head of the United Nations did to the IOC earlier this week — and did not mention Russia’s anti-LGBT laws.
The comments came even as LGBT activists were arrested and later released for attempting to publicly display the non-discrimination principle of the Olympic Charter in St. Petersburg, and other activists were beaten and arrested in Moscow for waving rainbow pride flags in Red Square.
“Olympic games are always about building bridges to bring people together,” Bach said. “Olympic games are never about erecting walls to keep people apart. Olympic games are a sports festival embracing human diversity and great unity.”
“To the political leaders of the world,” he then said, “Please respect their Olympic message of goodwill, of tolerance, of excellence, and of peace. Have the courage to address your disagreements in a peaceful, direct, political dialogue and not on the back of these athletes” — echoing comments he made earlier this week, comments widely seen as criticizing world leaders for staying away from the Sochi games.
Update, Feb. 8, 2 p.m. ET: Deadspin noted Friday night that NBC edited Bach’s speech to exclude a large portion of the middle of his speech, including the following:
Olympic Sport unites people. This is the Olympic Message the athletes spread to the host country and to the whole world. Yes, it is possible to strive even for the greatest victory with respect for the dignity of your competitors. Yes, Yes, it is possible - even as competitors - to live together under one roof in harmony, with tolerance and without any form of discrimination for whatever reason. Yes, it is possible - even as competitors - to listen, to understand and to give an example for a peaceful society.
An NBC spokesperson told BuzzFeed Saturday, “The IOC President’s comments were edited for time, as were other speeches, but his message got across very clearly to viewers.”