The International Olympics Committee (IOC) has said that it has received reassurance from the Russian government that athletes and spectators will be exempt from the country’s draconian anti-gay laws during the 2014 Winter Olympics to be held in the Russian city of Sochi.
In a statement, the IOC said: “The IOC has received assurances from the highest level of government in Russia that the legislation will not affect those attending or taking part in the Games.
“This legislation has just been passed into law and it remains to be seen whether and how it will be implemented, particularly as regards the Games in Sochi. As a sporting organization, what we can do is to continue to work to ensure that the Games can take place without discrimination against athletes, officials, spectators and the media.
“The International Olympic Committee is clear that sport is a human right and should be available to all regardless of race, sex or sexual orientation. The Games themselves should be open to all, free of discrimination, and that applies to spectators, officials, media and of course athletes. We would oppose in the strongest terms any move that would jeopardise this principle.”
President Vladimir Putin signed the controversial law last month banning the promotion of “non-traditional relationships” toward minors, a move that has been criticised as part of a broader crackdown on Russia’s gay community. British campaigners have likened the law to Section 28, a now repealed ban on the ‘promotion’ of homosexuality in schools or by local authorities.
The assurances could mean that athletes are able to protest for LGBT rights during the opening ceremony, although political statements are frowned upon by the IOC. It is also unclear whether the Russian authorities will simply turn a blind eye to all protesters in the street or whether they will instead try to arrest only non-foreigners who take part. The World Athletics Championships are to be held in Moscow next month.
Chad Griffin of the Human Rights Campaign said: “Mere verbal assurances from the Russian government that foreigners will be exempt from their repressive laws are not enough. The IOC must obtain ironclad written assurance from President Putin.”
He added: “More importantly, they should be advocating for the safety of all LGBT people in Russia, not simply those visiting for the Olympics. Rescinding this heinous law must be our collective goal.”
Earlier this month, speaking exclusively to PinkNews, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg urged Russia to protect the rights of LGBT citizens following concerns about gay athletes and spectators attending the 2014 Winter Olympics.
He said: “Those days should be long behind us now and for those countries and those governments and regimes who don’t see it that way I think they have to move with the times.”
A number of British and American gay bars have said that they will boycott Russian vodka. One of the most popular Russian sourced vodkas, Stoli, has criticsed the anti-gay policies of the Russian government.
Some campaigners have called for a boycott of the Winter Olympics.