IOC boss says athletes can protest, but via press conference

Given the controversy surrounding the stage and terra of Sochi, you might be wondering what the athletes are thinking. Might be curious if the players in these games plan on speaking out about what they're thinking of the world and situation around them, outside the arena of competition.

This is a controversial and potentially dangerous time for Russia, which has been lobbed threats of terrorism by local insurgent groups in the months leading up to the event. But whether it be the possible dangers around Sochi or the philosophical beliefs of the Russian government when it comes to human rights, almost everyone involved has opinions, fears and curiosities on what's to come.

If you're expecting any of the athletes to speak out on one issue or another, know that it will need to come in something of a prepared statement. AFP News, out of Australia, reports that Olympic organizers have sent out a stern warning and directive to Olympic athletes: protest if you must, but only at the dais. An inspired quasi-recreation of the most famous protest in Olympics history is certainly not endorsed.

This came from the mouth of Thomas Bach, head of the International Olympic Committee, who said as much on a conference call with the media.

"It is very clear, the Games cannot be used as a stage for political demonstrations however good the cause may be," Bach told the press in a conference call. "The IOC will take, if necessary, individual decisions based on individual cases. It is also clear, on the other hand, the athletes enjoy the freedom of speech so if in a press conference they wanted to make a political statement then they are absolutely free to do so."
Bach, who won Olympic gold in fencing in 1976, said in reply to a suggestion that he was advising athletes to make their point at news conferences rather than the medals podium: "If you are drawing this conclusion I would not say anything against it."

This is the first Olympics for Bach as IOC chair. He also noted that this is standard procedure for every Olympics. The fact Sochi has become such a hotbed for controversy regarding human rights and possible terrorist attacks means there's an added sense of curiousness from the press. These are athletes participating in a global event that's required more money on security than any sports event in human history: an estimated $3 billion in total and approximately 100,000 security personnel working every second of the games.

"When the athletes will be in Sochi, it will become clearer and clearer that the Olympic Games are first of all about the athletes and about sport," Bach said on the call.

It's that kind of expectation and mindset that usually makes for bigger news, should athletes, in their moment of triumph, opt to make waves by commenting outside the usual platitudes and thank-yous.

CBS Sports Writer

Matt Norlander is a national award-winning writer who has been with CBS Sports since 2010. He's in his seventh season covering college basketball for CBS, and also covers the NBA Draft, the Olympics and... Full Bio

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