Lord Coe says he’s against Olympic boycotts because they hurt the athletes and make it harder for campaigners to achieve their aims.
The former Olympian and chairman of the British Olympic Association has been asked about the Sochi Winter Games and Russia’s position on LGBT rights.
Speaking in Sochi, Lord Coe told the London Evening Standard that international sport can help promote social change.
“We have to recognise there are very few countries you will take the Games to where somebody doesn’t have issues on foreign or domestic policy,” he said.
“You have to be very careful with boycotts. Boycotts of this proportion only tend to hurt the athletes.
“My overwhelming concern will always be the well-being of the athletes.
“In Olympic sport it is rare for competitors not to devote half their young life to this.
“Their families will have given up all sorts of things to allow them to do that. I know that because my family did. And boycotts never really resolve what they set out to achieve.”
The 57-year-old made a sharp distinction between apartheid South Africa and Vladimir Putin’s Russia.
“South Africa brought race into sport. I chose not to go to South Africa for obvious reasons,” he said.
“I felt very strongly about that because of my heritage [his mother was half Indian].
“Also because I would not be competing against the best athletes South Africa had in track and field at the time.
“That for me was sport in an abnormal environment.”
Lord Coe pointed out that this did not apply when he was part of a British team who defied Margaret Thatcher’s call to boycott Moscow in 1980 because of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.
The peer, who won the first of his two 1500 metre Olympic golds in Moscow, said: “There, unlike South Africa, I knew the best athletes who were there would be competing.”
He added: “The International Olympic Committee in choosing cities have often been ahead of the political norms.”
Referencing the Seoul Olympics of 1988, he said: “Only 50% of the world recognised South Korea diplomatically.
“The Paralympic Games brought a profound change in Korea.
“When the organising committee announced Paralympic athletes would be going into the Olympic village they were told there would be very little resale value in those properties when they went on the market.
“Yet, within a few years of the Games, South Korea had become an exemplar in the region for disability rights.”
Sports and Equalites Minister Helen Grant is also travelling to Sochi.