BERLIN Athletes at the Winter Olympics may be punished for making statements on the podium against Russia's anti-gay laws or human rights record but can do so at news conferences without fear of sanction, the IOC said.
Thomas Bach, president of the International Olympic Committee, explained ahead of next month's Sochi Games that under the Olympic Charter political protests and demonstrations within venues are not allowed.
"It is very clear the Games cannot be used as a stage for political demonstrations however good the cause may be," Bach told a media conference call on Monday.
"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."
Asked whether he was urging athletes to make their point at news conferences rather than the medals podium, Bach said: "If you are drawing this conclusion I would not say anything against it".
Russia has caused considerable controversy with a recent anti-gay propaganda law that critics say curb the rights of homosexuals in the country.
President Vladimir Putin has said homosexuals will not be discriminated against during the February 7-23 Winter Games but many athletes have said they would make their opposition known during the Olympics in the Russian Black Sea resort.
(Reporting by Karolos Grohmann, editing by Tony Jimenez)