Honourable Members of the European Parliament,
Prominent Olympic champions,
Ladies and gentlemen,
First of all I would like to thank Mr. Slavi Binev, a distinguished parliamentarian and famous sportsman, for hosting this event devoted to the forthcoming XXII Winter Olympic Games and XI Paralympic Games in Sochi.
These games are of great importance for my country. Holding them is not only a matter of pride and national prestige, but also a huge responsibility vis-à-vis the international Olympic movement, the world of sports and the whole international community. As President Vladimir Putin emphasized when he met members of the International Olympic Committee, we are determined to organise a real full-fledged event in 2014, a celebration of sports worthy of its unique mission, namely uniting all people around truly important values: healthy lifestyle, tolerance and equality.
The Sochi Olympic Games will run from February 7 to 23, 2014, featuring 18 days of competition. A number of new events have been added to the Olympic schedule since the previous Winter Games in Vancouver: women's ski jump; men's and women's freestyle half pipe; team figure skating; luge team relay; co-ed biathlon relay; men's and women's snowboard slope style; men's and women's freestyle ski slope style; and men's and women's snowboard parallel slalom.
The follow-on Sochi Paralympics Games will run from March 7 to 16, 2014. Eight more sets of medals will be awarded with more biathlon events and men's and women's para-snowboard cross added to the programme. The Paralympics have changed the way venues are built - and led to improvements in existing facilities, with more than 500 sites reviewed for accessibility. And the volunteer movement – which, I must admit, had been virtually non-existent in Russia before Sochi won the 2014 Olympics - is thriving.
5,500 Olympic athletes, 1,350 Paralympics athletes, 25,000 volunteers, and 13,000 members of the press will come to Sochi for the Games. Sports venues in the Olympic Park will be visited daily by more than 75,000 people and the Games' television audience will encompass approximately 3 billion viewers.
The Sochi Olympics will be a real diamond in a crown of sporting events in Russia over several years. The sporting schedule started this year with the World Athletic Championship and the Rugby Seven World Cup in Moscow, followed by the World Summer Universiade (University games) in Kazan. After the Olympics the first Formula One Grand Prix of Russia will take place in Sochi in autumn 2014. Another major event will be the FIFA World Cup in 2018, and then the World Winter University games in Krasnoyarsk in 2019.
These events bring an increased focus to the Russian tourist industry. According to expert estimations, Russia is set to see no less than 20 percent increase in the number of visitors over these years. We are doing our best to create most favourable conditions for foreign guests, aiming, in particular, at easing visa formalities for short-term visits, as well as negotiating visa-free travel for Russian and EU citizens – as soon as the EU musters enough political will to agree to launch negotiations on a visa-waiver agreement with Russia.
Visa waiver will have a positive effect on economic ties and eliminate visa barriers for the work of European business in Russia and that of Russian business in the EU as well as intensify cultural ties and facilitate people-to-people contacts.
May I draw your attention to another important issue. On 6 November 2013 at the 68th session of the UN General Assembly a resolution initiated by the Russian Federation and Greece, the cradle of the Olympic movement, “Sport for Peace and Development: Building a Peaceful, Better World Through Sport and the Olympic Ideal”, the so called resolution on the Olympic truce, was adopted by consensus.
Diplomats from UN member states, the “group of friends of sports”, the United Nations Office on Sport for Development and Peace, the International Olympic Committee, and the Autonomous Non-Commercial Organization “Sochi 2014 Olympic Organizing Committee” were involved in the work on the coordination of the draft resolution from the very beginning.
All this ensured rather broad support for the resolution with 120 countries representing all the geographic regions of the world becoming its co-authors.
The President of the International Olympic Committee, Thomas Bach, in a speech at the UNGA session gave a positive assessment of the degree of readiness of Sochi for the 2014 Winter Olympics, and highlighted the role of sports in advancing the ideals of the Olympic truce and unacceptability of any boycots in respect of Olympic competitions.
I am confident that the upcoming Olympics will be a symbol of peace, friendship and tolerance, contributing to creating common space of trust and mutual understanding.