Sochi 2014: Olympic chief defends Irina Rodnina's ceremony role

By Richard ConwayBBC Radio 5 live sports news correspondent
Three billion people across the globe are expected to see the Games on television

The head of Sochi 2014 has defended the controversial selection of Irina Rodnina to light the Winter Olympic flame in Friday's opening ceremony.

Former figure skater Rodnina tweeted an allegedly racist photograph of US President Barack Obamaexternal-link last year.

But Sochi 2014 chief executive Dmitry Chernyshenko said it was not considered when choosing the Russian MP.

"Any political talks or discussions are not appropriate for the Olympic Games," said Chernyshenko.

"Irina Rodnina is one of the most respected Olympic athletes in the world and I want to stress the Olympics is not about politics."

Rodnina, who won gold at the 1972, 1976 and 1980 Olympics,external-link attracted criticism after tweeting a doctored picture of President and Mrs Obama looking at someone holding a banana.

The 65-year-old politician removed the image from her Twitter account, but refused to apologise for using the picture after being questioned by police.

The US ambassador to Moscow, Michael McFaul, respondedexternal-link at the time by writing "outrageous behaviour, which only brings shame to her parliament and country" on his Twitter account.

But Mark Adams, a spokesman for the International Olympic Committee (IOC), said: "It's clearly not the IOC that chooses torch bearers but, as Dmitry said, she was chosen for what she's done in sport and she's a triple gold medallist in skating.

"She's done a great deal of work in sport and that's what she was chosen for, but it was a decision that Sochi took, as they did all with of the torch bearers."

Chernyshenko also revealed that Russia's president, Vladimir Putin, was "satisfied" overall with Friday night's ceremony, despite a technical hitch at one stage of the lavish production.

Five giant snowflakes descended into the stadium and were then meant to change and form the rings of the Olympic symbol, but the last one failed to open.

"After the closing of the ceremony the President expressed his gratitude toward the team, to the deputy PM Kozak and all the creative team. He was satisfied with the result," said Chernyshenko.

He was also questioned over ticket sales and, while refusing to reveal specific figures, Chernyshenko expressed his confidence that people would visit the Games.

However, with a number of venues appearing to have empty seats prior to the start of events, he urged Russian fans to be like overseas visitors and take their seats in advance of the start.

"It's true that Russians have a special habit, not like the foreigners who come in advance," he said.

"This is a lesson learned - we're trying to inspire our local fans to come longer and in advance to fill the stadia prior to the beginning of the events."

Organisers revealed that 44,431 people attended the Olympic park on Friday with the IOC happy with attendance numbers.

"From the IOC point of view, venues look pretty full and the percentages of tickets sold are pretty high and there are a lot of full venues," said Adams.

"Sometimes you do have open areas of snow, because that's what they're doing, but as far I know there have been very good sales and very good attendances so far."

Top Stories