As the international outcry increases around the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics in the wake of the passage of anti-gay laws back in June, big sponsors of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) have maintained the line that they do not condone discrimination, but that they will not seek the relocation of the event.
Coca-Cola and McDonald’s both stated that they do not condone the anti-gay laws, and that they think they contradict the Olympic charter, but in a similar sentiment to the IOC last week, do not think the games should be relocated away from Sochi.
In an email sent to PinkNews a McDonald’s spokesperson said: “There’s no room for discrimination under the Golden Arches. McDonald’s welcomes 69 million customers around the world every day representing different races, nationalities, religions, genders, ages and sexual orientations.
“McDonald’s supports the spirit of the Olympic Games and its ability to unite the world in a positive and inspirational way. We’ve been a proud sponsor of the Games for 37 years.
“Regarding the recent Russian legislation, we support the International Olympic Committee’s belief that sport is a human right and the Olympic Games should be open to all, free of discrimination, and that applies to spectators, officials, media and athletes.”
Speaking to BuzzFeed, Coca-Cola spokesperson Kate Harman said: “We have long been a strong supporter of the LGBT community and have advocated for inclusion and diversity through both our policies and practices… We do not condone human rights abuses, intolerance, or discrimination of any kind anywhere in the world.
“As a sponsor since 1928, we believe the Olympic Games are a force for good that unite people through a common interest in sports, and we have seen firsthand the positive impact and long-lasting legacy they leave on every community that has been a host,” she continued.
Hartman also said , when asked about the risks posed to Coca-Cola employees travelling to Russia for the Winter games, she said that “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.”
Both Coca-Cola and McDonald’s have made bets on Russia’s expanding consumer market, with Coca-Cola two years into a scheme to double its investment into the country though a five-year plan worth $3 billion (£1.93 billion).
McDonald’s has announced plans to add 150 restaurants across Russia over three years, doubling the number of sites. Human Rights Watch president Kenneth Roth, called on companies sponsoring the Olympics to put pressure on Russia to repeal the discriminatory laws.
“Companies that are concerned about their image with consumers are not going to want to be associated with a gay-bashing exercise — the commercial advantages are going to be completely undone,” Roth said.
“Olympic sponsors make enormous investments by being associated with the Sochi Olympics. They don’t want to be part of a debacle.”
“It’s easy to imagine a confrontation taking place on global television. It’s almost certain that athletes will flaunt their homosexuality or support for gay rights,” he said.
“That’ll create a potential conflict with Russian authorities. There’s the fear of this all going horribly wrong. The Kremlin cares about its reputation and the Olympics going off smoothly — they don’t want this to be a new embarrassment,” he continued.
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.
Other laws banning the adoption of Russian children by foreign same-sex couples, and one which enables organisations receiving funding from abroad to be fined as “foreign agents”, were also passed.
The laws have so far sparked controversy among LGBT activists, with some calling for a boycott of the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics. Others have also called to boycott Russian vodka as a form of protest.
In an interview last week, a senior International Olympics Committee member said: “Russia must respect the Olympic Charter, or we will say goodbye to them”, broaching the question of relocating the games with the IOC for the first time.