Russia will enforce anti-gay law during Sochi Olympics

Russia's interior ministry has confirmed to an English language Russian website that they will enforce their anti-gay laws during the Winter Olympics.


Russia's Interior Ministry, which controls the police force, confirmed Monday that the country's controversial anti-gay law will be enforced during the Sochi 2014 Olympics.

Confusion has reigned over how the country intends to act during the February 7-23 Winter Games after President Vladimir Putin signed legislation in June that bans the promotion of homosexuality to minors.

The International Olympic Committee first claimed it had received assurances from top government officials that Sochi 2014 athletes and guests will not be affected, prompting Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko to insist no one is exempt from the law.

"The law enforcement agencies can have no qualms with people who harbor a nontraditional sexual orientation and do not commit such acts [to promote homosexuality to minors], do not conduct any kind of provocation and take part in the Olympics peacefully," said an Interior Ministry statement issued on Monday.

It warned against this approach being mixed up with discrimination against gay people.

"Any discussion on violating the rights of representatives of nontraditional sexual orientations, stopping them from taking part in the Olympic Games or discrimination of athletes and guests of the Olympics according to their sexual orientation is totally unfounded and contrived," the statement added.

The head of Russia's National Olympic Committee Alexander Zhukov stated it plainly.

"If a person does not put across his views in the presence of children, no measures against him can be taken," Zhukov said. "People of nontraditional sexual orientations can take part in the competitions and all other events at the Games unhindered, without any fear for their safety whatsoever."

Many have raised concerns about the vague definition of promoting homosexuality to minors.

IOC president Jacques Rogge said last week he would ask for clarification on the issue before his organization takes a stance.

Practically speaking, the law forbids public displays of affection between homosexuals. While not specific in its intent, if two men kiss in a public place with children present, they can be arrested. Even waving a rainbow flag in public might be illegal.

If the row in Beijing over free speech is any indication, the US Olympic Committee and various federations that run individual sports won't tolerate any public displays of opposition to the law. They made it clear in China that anyone who made any kind of protest against the stifling of free speech would go home. They will no doubt cave in to the Russian authorities in the same manner.

There won't be a boycott of the games by the US. But the efforts by opponents of the law may turn to boycotting TV sponsors of the games. The Olympics is one gigantic commercial for world corporations who not only buy TV time, but sponsor various teams in various sports, as well as sponsoring the games themselves, for which Russia receives some much needed cash.

It's difficult at this point to gauge how successful a boycott would be, but gay rights are a very hot issue politically in the west and if corporations want to avoid the bad publicity that is almost certain to come as gay rights advocates test the intentions - and the patience - of Russian authorities, they may want to lower their profile or pull out altogether.

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