IOC president addresses fallout from the women's figure skating event
A MARTINEZ, HOST:
At the Winter Olympics, last night's dramatic finish to the women's figure skating event continued to resonate today. International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach talked about it at length at his final press conference of the Games. Fifteen-year-old Russian star skater Kamila Valieva left the ice in tears after a disastrous performance and days of controversy over her pre-Olympics positive drug test. NPR's Tom Goldman is in Beijing. Tom, the IOC - pretty, pretty good at dodging thorny issues, but none maybe more thorny than the Valieva one this week, so why do you think Bach spoke about it?
TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: Well, he had to, you know, A. It consumed the Games for the past week or so. But knowing how the IOC likes to dodge, we came ready to have to pry out information about Valieva to this press conference. And it was notable that he spoke about her unprompted in great detail. He talked about watching on TV. He wasn't there, which drew some other criticism. But he watched Valieva's painful meltdown. And then he said he was very disturbed by the images after, when Valieva's coaches treated her with what Bach called a tremendous coldness. Here he is.
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: It was chilling to see this, rather than giving her comfort, rather than to try to help her.
GOLDMAN: And Bach said he can only wish for her to get support and hope that, you know, this all is addressed in the right way and doesn't continue being a traumatic experience for her.
MARTINEZ: Yeah. Well, see; wishing and hoping are nice, I mean, but shouldn't the IOC be actually doing something? They oversee the Olympics. It's in the title.
GOLDMAN: (Laughter) They sure do. You know, Bach said the IOC has contacted the Russian Olympic Committee about Valieva's welfare. He also said discussions need to happen on many issues related to the scandal, including possible limits on minors in senior competitions and more scrutiny of entourages, the people closest to the athletes, like coaches. Bach said those discussions have begun, and the IOC is dedicated to getting it right.
MARTINEZ: But I know a lot of people, Tom, say there's a disconnect between what the IOC says and then what the IOC does.
GOLDMAN: Yeah, they do say that, and there often is. You know, consider Valieva's controversial coach, Eteri Tutberidze. She churns out female teenagers who burn brightly and win titles, but their shelf lives often are short, due in part to their bodies giving out and reported severe diet restrictions. The skating world has known about these questionable practices. The IOC should know, too, because after last night, the coach's skaters have won gold and silver in the individual women's competition in the last two Winter Olympics.
MARTINEZ: Any other issues of note from President Bach?
GOLDMAN: Well, you know, there was this crazy moment yesterday, as we've been reporting, when an official with the Beijing Organizing Committee, known by the acronym BOCOG, she went off at the daily briefing, calling reporters' questions lies when they asked about Chinese human rights violations, forced labor of the Uyghur minority - very uncomfortable moment for the IOC, which has a carefully crafted public position that it's politically neutral and only about bringing the world together. So Bach was asked about this Chinese official who was very political, and he said after her comments they all had a little conversation.
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: And then both organizations, BOCOG and the IOC, have restated their unequivocal commitment to remain politically neutral.
GOLDMAN: And so, A, as the Games end in a couple of days, the IOC again is in its comfort space - no politics, even though politics swirl all around the Olympic Games.
MARTINEZ: That's NPR sports correspondent Tom Goldman in Beijing covering the Winter Olympics. Tom, thanks.
GOLDMAN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.