Australian Olympic Gold medalist, Matthew Mitcham, who is openly gay, says Russia’s anti-gay law that could see athletes jailed if they take part in any gay rights related activities is “horrific”.
President Vladimir Putin signed the law in June 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.
The law has so far sparked controversy among LGBT activists, with some calling for a boycott of the 2014 Games. Others have also called to boycott Russian vodka as a form of protest.
Last month, the International Olympics Committee said in a statement that it had received reassurance from the Russian government that athletes and spectators will be exempt from the country’s anti-gay laws.
But sports minister Vitaly Mutko said in a recent interview:”No one is banning a sportsman with a non-traditional sexual orientation from going to Sochi. But if he goes out onto the street and starts to make propaganda, then of course he will be brought to responsibility.”
Mr Mutko also said that sportsmen should respect the laws of the country.
Today, diver Matthew Mitcham said: “It’s really sad, the way they are persecuting people in Russia is quite horrific.”
He added: “The Olympics is the best experience you will ever have as an athlete,” he said. “Their whole memory and experience is going to be marred by this stuff. They are going to be made to feel unacceptable, inappropriate, and it is a really awful, awful feeling.
“The Olympics are supposed to be somewhere where they can go to be relieved of that feeling.
“A place where you can compete and feel that gender and sexuality is not an issue.”
A spokesman said: ““We have repeatedly raised our concerns about the growing restrictions on LGBT freedoms in Russia, including at the 2013 UK-Russia Human Rights dialogue in May. The Prime Minister outlined our concerns about the human rights situation in Russia with President Putin during a meeting in Downing Street in June ahead of the G8 Summit.”
Last month, UK Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg urged Russia to protect the rights of LGBT people following concerns about LGBT athletes and spectators attending the 2014 Winter Olympics in the Russian city of Sochi.
Speaking exclusively to PinkNews.co.uk, the Liberal Democrat leader said: “It is just totally out of order it is unacceptable in this day and age for any athlete to feel in anyway intimidated or certainly to be discriminated against because of their sexuality.”
A UK Government source told PinkNews.co.uk that they anticipated the issue of homophobic oppression in Russia would be raised at the G20 Heads of Government meeting, which is taking place in St Petersburg next month.