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LONDON — The International Olympic Committee is engaged in “quiet diplomacy” with Russian leaders to make sure the Winter Games in Sochi are not affected by the country’s new anti-gay legislation, IOC presidential candidate Ng Ser Miang said today.
Ng, an IOC vice president from Singapore, said Vladimir Putin’s government has much at stake in the 2014 Olympics and won’t want to do anything that jeopardizes the success of Russia’s first Winter Games.
“The IOC has made a very strong point that they will be against any action that would discriminate against participants at the Sochi Games, whether it’s officials, media, visitors or the athletes,” Ng said.
Russia recently introduced a law that bans so-called “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations” and imposes hefty fines on those holding gay pride rallies.
Ng said Jean-Claude Killy, chairman of the IOC’s coordination commission for Sochi, has been in talks with the “highest authority in Russia” to resolve the issue.
“I believe there will be a good solution to that,” Ng told reporters in London. “I believe that this issue will be resolved to the satisfaction of all.”
Russia’s sports minister said last week that the law would be enforced during the Sochi Games, appearing to contradict assurances to the contrary from the IOC. There has been speculation that the law could be suspended for the Olympics, which will be held Feb. 7-23 in the Black Sea resort.
“In such cases where diplomacy is at work, we should limit to the effectiveness of the quiet diplomacy,” Ng said. “But I can say that Russia has invested a lot into the games and definitely they want to have a great success. This is the common objective of Russia and the IOC. I’m sure that we’ll make every possible effort to make sure this will be the case.”
Ng is also a diplomat, serving as Singapore’s non-resident ambassador to Norway. He previously was also non-resident ambassador to Hungary.
As the IOC’s point man on the Sochi Olympics, Killy has forged strong ties with Putin. That relationship is crucial in the talks on the anti-gay issue, Ng said.
“I would not want to pre-empt the outcome of the negotiation,” he said. “It’s more effective to make sure that both sides have room to view the issue, and with six months to go, you definitely do not want to make any move that would jeopardize the games. We want to make sure that we create a great environment for the athletes to perform during the games.”
Ng noted that the IOC had similar concerns over Italy’s anti-doping legislation ahead of the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin.
“I think through quiet diplomacy we managed to resolve that and it was good games,” he said.
Some politicians and critics of Putin have called for a boycott of the Sochi Games, an idea that has not gained support in the Olympic world.
“I think the idea of a boycott is misplaced,” Ng said. “We have learned from history that the ones who really suffer will be the athletes who have spent years preparing for the games. I do not think we have the right to deprive them of the opportunity to take part in the games.
“We have to spare no efforts in making sure that the discussions, the negotiations will go on to make sure the issue is resolved to the satisfaction of both sides.”
Ng is one of six candidates in the race to succeed Jacques Rogge, who steps down as IOC president next month after 12 years in office. The other candidates are Thomas Bach of Germany, Sergei Bubka of Ukraine, Richard Carrion of Puerto Rico, Denis Oswald of Switzerland and C.K. Wu of Taiwan.
Bach, an IOC vice president from Germany, has long been viewed as the front-runner. In what seemed like a dig at Bach, Ng went out of his way to cite the release of a report that claims West German athletes were systematically doped with government backing for years.
On Saturday, the Sueddeutsche Zeitung newspaper published details from the unreleased 800-page report, alleging that the state financed experiments with performance-enhancing substances including anabolic steroids, testosterone, estrogen and EPO, going back to 1970 at least.
The investigation was initiated by the German Olympic Sports Confederation, which is headed by Bach.
“It is mind boggling that any government would engage in systemic doping,” Ng said. “We hope the report will come out as soon as possible and full action could be taken. The credibility of the Olympic movement is dependent on the integrity of sport.”