Para-equestrian rider Lee Pearson has said he will speak out against Russia’s anti-gay laws during the Russian Winter Games in Sochi.
He told the Mail that he does not care if he goes to prison.
“In some respects I hope I do because then the Prime Minister and my country would have to get involved and that would add to the embarrassment for Russia.”
Many have called for a boycott of the Sochi games in protest against the repressive laws of Putin’s government, and actors Stephen Fry and Rupert Everett have been involved in the campaign.
Pearson, however, does not think that this is the most effective way of approaching the problem: “I say to Stephen, Rupert and all those backing a boycott that Sochi is going to happen whatever they say and they should join me so our collective message to Russia is stronger. It’s much more powerful to be there than not”.
He added: “But the bigger reason for not boycotting Sochi is that you’d simply be putting your head in the sand. Isn’t it much better to educate Russians and shed more light on the legislation both in Russia and worldwide?”
President Vladimir Putin signed a nationwide federal bill into law in June making it illegal to distribute information about “non-traditional sexual relations” to children under the age of eighteen. Russians could be fined up to £2,500 if they do not adhere to the laws, and any foreigner speaking out about gay rights could be arrested, held for up to fifteen days and deported from the country.
There has been much international criticism of the law which is seen to legitimise the repression of the gay community in Russia, but protests will be banned during the weeks surrounding the Winter Games.
39-year-old Pearson, who came in at number 51 on The Independent’s Pink List 2013, has won ten gold medals and represented British para-equestrianism in Sydney, Athens, Beijing and London.
He said: “I am very proud of what I have achieved in sport but the most important thing I will ever do is to make a stand and help educate Russia and the world about discrimination. Winning medals does not compare to that”.