Olympic flame lit ahead of Sochi Winter Games amid repeated calls for tolerance

Illustrated rainbow pride flag on a white background.

The Olympic flame has been lit in Greece, and the International Olympic Committee’s (IOC) new president gave repeated reassurances, ahead of February’s Sochi Winter Olympics which have been surrounded by controversy over Russian anti-gay laws.

The flame-lighting ceremony took place over the weekend, as new IOC president Thomas Bach urged Russia to uphold the values of the games.

Referring to the torch as a symbol of friendship, respect and excellence, Bach said the games should be held “without any form of discrimination”.

The 2014 Winter Olympics have been the subject of controversy, and calls for boycott, as Russia in June introduced a law banning the positive depiction of “non-traditional” sexual relationships.

Actors dressed in white robes performed the elaborate dance, before igniting the Olympic flames in the ruins of the Temple of Hera, in ancient Olympia. During the ceremony, reflected sun rays were used to light the flames.

The first torch was carried by Greek skier Ioannis Antoniuo, and NHL star Aleksandr Ovechkin, the first Russian to carry the flame, received it immediately after. It is expected to complete a 65,000km (40,000mile)  journey before arriving at the opening ceremony of the Sochi games in 122 days.

Speaking to Reuters before the ceremony, Ovechkin refused to answer questions about the legislation.

He said: “I am just a hockey player. This is something for the politicians,”

Bach, who recently replaced Jacques Rogge as IOC president, said the games should not be used for political means.

“Just as in ancient Greece, the Olympic Games cannot settle political problems or secure lasting peace between peoples,” he said in his speech.

“The Olympic flame thus reminds us to be aware of our own Olympic limits.”

On Thursday, the International Olympic Committee declared the “magnificent” Olympic venues in Sochi ready for the 2014 Winter Games. 

IOC Co-ordination Committee Chairman Jean-Claude Killy dismissed concerns over Russian anti-gay legislation. “As long as the Olympic Charter is respected, we are satisfied,” he said.

President Vladimir Putin signed legislation in June banning the promotion of “non-traditional relationships” toward minors.