Russia paraded the Olympic torch through Sochi for the first time, as protests were held around the world against the country’s anti-gay legislation.
On Wednesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin was also set to visit athletes settling into the Olympic villages as the authorities rushed to make the finishing touches before Friday’s opening ceremony in the Fisht Stadium.
Putin has vowed that Russia will ensure hospitable and top class Games for everyone but the $50 billion project has long been overshadowed by Russia’s law outlawing “gay propaganda” to minors.
Gay rights group All Out is organising protests in 19 cities around the world — including Saint Petersburg in Russia but not Sochi itself — urging sponsors to “break their silence” on the controversial legislation.
“This is the moment to push sponsors to use their economic power to call for an end to these discriminatory laws,” it said in a statement.
The international demonstrations by LGBT activists plan to target big-name Olympic sponsors such as McDonald’s, Coca-Cola, Samsung, watchmaker Omega and Visa credit cards in cities including London and New York.
In a protest in Melbourne, protesters gathered outside of Flinders Street Railway Station, brandishing pictures with the slogan “Olympic sponsors speak out now!”
US telecoms giant AT&T on Tuesday joined a growing international chorus of disapproval at the “gay propaganda” law, which activists say is vehemently homophobic by definition.
“We stand against Russia’s anti-LGBT law,” said AT&T, the biggest US mobile phone and landline operator, in a blog on its corporate website.
Putin assured International Olympic Committee (IOC) president Thomas Bach the day earlier that all guests would feel comfortable at the Games.
“The main task is to make the Sochi Games a celebration for all sport lovers in the world,” Putin added.
The Olympic flame
The Olympic flame is due to spend the next three days in and around Sochi, including Friday when it will finally arrive at the stadium to light the Olympic cauldron.
The flame started its journey in Sochi by being taken through the Lazarevsky district north of the centre and later in the afternoon was expected in Rosa Khutor where the mountain events are being held.
The stadium is itself some 40 kilometres south of Sochi city centre and in the next days the flame is expected to be carried by runners, on trains, on sailing boats and even possibly on a Black Sea dolphin.
Flame carriers are set to include UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and the IOC president, as well as luminaries of Russian sport like pole vault champion Elena Isinbayeva.