Former Radio 4 newsreader Alice Arnold says it would be “bizarre” to boycott the Winter Olympics over Russia’s position on gay rights.

“There have been calls for gay athletes and commentators to boycott the games. This strikes me as bizarre,” the broadcaster and journalist wrote on the Telegraph website. “Surely these are the very people who need to be there. If there was to have been any kind of boycott, it has to come from everyone not just the gay minority.”

She went on to say: “During apartheid in South Africa we would not have said to black cricketers ‘you stay at home while the white people play’. When the boycott came, it came from all players, black and white.

“Let’s remember that it was only 10 years ago that Section 28 was repealed in this country. Section 28 was very similar to the anti-gay laws that now apply in Russia. A lot can happen in 10 years. But it doesn’t happen by staying at home and doing nothing.”

Arnold, whose civil partner is BBC sports presenter Clare Balding, concluded: “The gay competitors and commentators are no more responsible for trying to change attitudes than everyone else. So let’s hope for a real sense of community and support for all diversity from everyone. Watch that Putin, and enjoy the show.”

The mayor of Sochi, the Russian city which is hosting the Winter Olympics from 7 February, has said there are no gay people in his city.

Earlier this month, President Vladimir Putin claimed gay people would be welcome in Sochi, providing they “just leave the children alone”.

“We don’t have a ban on non-traditional sexual relations,” he said. “We have a ban on the propaganda of homosexuality and paedophilia.”

In a subsequent interview, Putin denied accusations of homophobia, saying he was not prejudiced as he was on “friendly terms” with several people who are gay.

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev last week dismissed criticism of the country’s anti-gay laws, claiming not a single gay person in Russia has complained.