August 22, 2013 | by Michael K. Lavers
Russia again seeks to reassure IOC over Olympics
Athlete Ally, All Out, IOC, International Olympic Committee, Russia, Sochi, gay news, Washington Blade

Members of All Out and Athlete Ally on August 7 presented a petition with more than 300,000 signatures to the International Olympic Committee that urges it to pressure Russia to end its gay crackdown. (Photo courtesy of All Out)

The International Olympic Committee on Thursday said it had received additional assurances from the Russian government that gay people would be welcome to attend the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.

The IOC said in a statement Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Kozak wrote in a letter to the Olympic body that his country “has committed itself to comply strictly with the provisions of the Olympic Charter and its fundamental principles, according to item 6 of which ‘any form of discrimination with regard to a country or a person on grounds of race, religion, politics, gender or otherwise is incompatible with belonging to the Olympic movement.”

“The Russian Federation guarantees the fulfillment of its obligations before the International Olympic Committee in its entirety,” Kozak added, according to the IOC.

Kozak’s letter to the IOC comes eight days after the Olympic body reiterated to the Washington Blade its previous statements that said it has “received assurances” from the Kremlin the broadly-worded law that President Vladimir Putin signed in June that bans gay propaganda to minors will “not affect those attending or taking part” in the Sochi games.

The Russian Interior Ministry in an August 12 statement said it would enforce the statute during the Olympics. Russian Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko earlier this week again defended the law.

“We want to protect our children whose psyches have not formed from the propaganda of drug use, drunkenness and non-traditional sexual relations,” he told reporters during a Moscow press conference as the Associated Press reported.

Athletes speak out against anti-gay law

Russian chess champion Gary Kasparov and gay playwright Harvey Fierstein are among those who have called for a boycott of the Sochi games that will take place in February. Author Dan Savage, LGBT rights advocate Cleve Jones and others have called for a boycott of Russian vodka.

President Obama, retired tennis champion Martina Navratilova, gay Olympic diver Greg Louganis and several LGBT advocacy groups that include Athlete Ally are among those who feel the U.S. should compete in Sochi.

American runner Nick Symmonds criticized Russia’s gay propaganda ban last week in an interview with the Russian news agency RIA Novosti after he competed in the World Athletic Championships in Moscow. Figure skater Johnny Weir, whose husband is of Russian descent, told CBS News earlier this month he is “not afraid of being arrested” while at the Olympics.

High jumper Emma Green Tregaro and sprinter Mao Hjelmer, who are from Sweden, painted their fingernails in rainbow colors as they competed in the World Athletic Championships. The AP reported Green Tregaro wore red fingernail polish during an August 17 high jump competition at the same event because Swedish athletic officials reportedly asked her to change their color.

Yelena Isinbayeva, a Russian Olympic pole vault champion, defended the gay propaganda law as she criticized Green Tregaro and Hjelmer during an August 15 press conference after she won her third title at the World Athletic Championships. Russian sprinter Kseniya Ryzhova earlier this week dismissed suggestions she and teammate Tatyana Firova challenged the statute when they kissed on the medal podium after they won the women’s 4 x 400 meter rally at the event.

The IOC on August 14 reaffirmed to the Blade it will not allow athletes who compete in Sochi to publicly challenge Russia’s gay propaganda ban. The Olympic Charter states anyone who violates the rule could face potential disqualification or loss of their accreditation to the games, although the IOC it would “always treat cases individually and take a sensible approach depending on what was said or done.”

An IOC spokesperson declined to provide the Blade a copy of the letter it said Kozak wrote to the Olympic body.

The AP reported Kozak wrote in his letter he addressed to French IOC member Jean-Claude Killy the gay propaganda law is about the “restriction of information that promotes non-traditional sexual relationships among children.” The news agency said Kozak further defended the statute.

“These legislations apply equally to all persons, irrespective of their race, religion, gender or sexual orientation and cannot be regarded as discrimination based on sexual orientation,” he reportedly wrote.

Cyd Zeigler, Jr., co-founder of Outsports.com, again criticized the gay propaganda law in response to Kozak’s letter to the IOC.

“The problem with this law has always been interpretation,” Zeigler told the Blade. “It’s the same ‘love the sinner, hate the sin’ mantra we’ve heard so many times before. Russia can say they will welcome anyone, but they won’t allow any action. They won’t allow fans to wave rainbow flags in the streets or hold hands and kiss in public.”

Zeigler also described the IOC as “problematic.”

“Now they’re pressuring national Olympic committees to stop athletes from painting their fingernails in rainbow colors,” he said. “Russia is only part of the problem here, the IOC itself is the other piece.”

Michael K. Lavers has been a staff writer for the Washington Blade since May 2012. The passage of Maryland's same-sex marriage law, the HIV/AIDS epidemic, the burgeoning LGBT rights movement in Latin America and the consecration of gay New Hampshire Bishop V. Gene Robinson are among the many stories he has covered since his career began in 2002. Follow Michael

1 Comment
  • As a citizen of the world, I find the increasing rhetoric and violence against the LGBT community in Russia to be very offensive. As a Lesbian, I take it as a direct threat toward me. This is a difficult situation because I would like to see the U.S. not participate in these games. However, that would be unfair to our athletes. It is a quandary, so my personal solution is to boycott any and all products from Russia.

    It seems that Putin is daily bringing Russia back to a Stalinist reality. Of course, this is not surprising since Putin is former KGB.

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