Russian former chess great and fierce Kremlin critic Garry Kasparov said on Thursday that the Sochi Winter Olympics promoted “dictatorship” in the country and called on athletes to protest.
Kasparov, in Ghana to push his bid to be head of the world chess federation (FIDE), has previously slammed the staging of the Games in the Black Sea resort, claiming infrastructure would not be ready.
The Games open on February 7 but have faced concerns about security and boycott threats after international condemnation at Russia’s passing of a controversial law banning gay “propaganda”.
“Participating in this event, especially the opening ceremony, gives a boost to the dictator because that’s all he needs, just to be sort of in the centre of public attention,” Kasparov told AFP in Accra, referring to President Vladimir Putin.
Kasparov, 50, has been a relentless critic of Putin and last year organised protests against the government for its passing of the gay law, which has led to claims of a rise in hate crime.
The Grandmaster, a former world number one widely considered the greatest chess player of all time, singled out the International Olympic Committee (IOC) for not taking a stand.
And he said athletes who protested would not be the first to register their disapproval during competition, suggesting that demonstrating would be justified.
“They (athletes) did statements all the time, 1968 in Mexico, for instance,” he said, referring to the “Black Power” salute of US athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos during their medal ceremony.
“We are witnessing the Olympics that are blatantly used for the promotion of the dictatorship,” he added.
Smith and Carlos, gold and bronze medallists in the 200m, raised a gloved fist each and bowed their heads during the playing of the US national anthem in support of the civil rights movement.
The silent protest, one of the defining images of the era, earnt the pair a strong reprimand from the IOC for a “deliberate and violent breach of the fundamental principles of the Olympic spirit”.
Current IOC president Thomas Bach said this week that athletes could make political statements if they wished but only at news conferences.
Protests made during the events themselves could lead to sanctions, he added.
Kasparov’s call echoes groups such as Amnesty International which said the IOC’s silence in the face of Russia’s crackdown on free speech and fundamental rights made a mockery of its charter.
Human Rights Watch also called the charter “meaningless” given IOC assertions that the law banning gay “propaganda” was not discriminatory.
Kasparov, who was born in Baku in what is now Azerbaijan, now lives outside Russia for fear of arrest.
He made an abortive bid for Russia’s presidency in 2007 but said he has now ruled out ever running again for the country’s top job.
“In Putin’s Russia, nobody’s fighting to win elections, we’re fighting to have elections,” he added.
The battle to become head of FIDE is between Kasparov and Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, who has headed the sport for 18 years but is thought to have Kremlin backing.