GIANNI MERLO / AIPS in MOSCOW: Fifty years ago I was here in Moscow, in the Olympic Stadium then known as the Lenin Stadium, with my father to watch the Soviet Union v United States track and field meet, an event that was significant and not only for sport.

President Leonid Brezhnev stood in the stands with the White House negotiator Averell Harriman, who was in Moscow to defuse the climate of the Cold War. Their arrival in the tribune was accompanied by lengthy applause.

The most important American sports ambassador that day was the legendary sprinter Bob Hayes; on the Soviet side was high jumper Valery Brumel who had established a world record of 2.28m.

Now, it seems that the cold war nerves have returned.

President Barack Obama has canceled a planned face-to-face summit with President Vladimir Putin because of the  temporary asylum granted to security whistleblower Edward Snowden. Obama has also openly criticised the Russian government on its controversial laws discriminating against gays and their right to express themselves in public.

Yesterday the favourite theme a joint press conference of IOC and IAAF presidents Jacques Rogge and Lamine Diack was how the Olympic movement would react to this affront to human rights. In fact, there were very few questions because both presidents chose to bolt.

Rogge said that in order to avoid any misunderstandings the IOC was awaiting a final and accurate translation of the law.

Diack said he respected the laws of the host country and could not say more, because in his native Senegal, homosexuality is prosecuted by law.

The impression is that the protest has been created specifically to embarrass the Russian government.

A demand for a boycott of the Sochi Winter Olympics by US Senator Lindsay Graham was not surprising; it was merely a product of the chilling politics which want to use sport for its own ends.

Homosexuality in sport has always been there and has never created a problem but one cannot discount a wish, in some quarters, to revive a means of attack on sport’s ability to bring freedom and the ability to bring people together, rather than divide.

Fifty years ago sport that picked up the political fragments to secure a better future. Now, who knows?

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GIANNI MERLO is president of AIPS, the international sports journalists’ association. This article appeared initially at

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