At an International Olympic Committee ceremony held in early February before the start of the Sochi Olympics, IOC President Thomas Bach appealed to nations to leave their political differences at the door.
“Sport can only contribute to development and peace if it’s not used as a stage for political dissent or for trying to score points in … political contests,” he said, echoing a rule in the Olympic charter eschewing political demonstrations. “Have the courage to address your disagreements in a peaceful direct political dialogue and not on the backs of the athletes.”
But as might be expected at any major gathering of widely diverse nations, political tensions inevitably creep into the fold. The Olympics have long been used as an arena for political posturing and a stage to voice dissent.
The United States and and other Western nations have long accused Russia of human rights violations and political repression. The issue came to a head last June, when the Russian parliament passed a law effectively criminalizing the distribution of material on gay rights. The ban spurred protests in cities around the world. President Obama was among the world leaders who shunned the measure, declining to attend this year’s games and instead sending three gay championship athletes as part of the U.S. delegation.