Russia defends anti-gay law in letter to IOC
LONDON (AP) - The Russian government assured the IOC on Thursday it will not discriminate against homosexuals during the Sochi Olympics, while defending the law against gay “propaganda” that has provoked an international backlash.
The IOC received a letter from Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Kozak giving reassurances the host country will comply fully with the Olympic Charter’s provision against discrimination of any kind.
“The Russian Federation guarantees the fulfillment of its obligations before the International Olympic Committee in its entirety,” Kozak said.
However, Kozak did not back down on the issue of the new law, which penalizes anyone who distributes information aimed at persuading minors that “nontraditional” relationships are normal or attractive.
The law applies equally to everyone and “cannot be regarded as discrimination based on sexual orientation,” Kozak said.
The letter still leaves open the question of what would happen to Olympic athletes or fans if they make statements or gestures that could be considered propaganda.
The law has provoked harsh international criticism ahead of the Feb. 7-23 Winter Olympics in the Russian resort of Sochi. Some activists have called for a boycott of the games, though President Barack Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron have ruled that out.
Kozak’s letter came after IOC President Jacques Rogge asked the Russians for further clarifications on the law and how it could impact on the Sochi Games.
“We have today received strong written reassurances from the Russian government that everyone will be welcome at the games in Sochi regardless of their sexual orientation,” Rogge said in a statement.
The letter was addressed to Jean Claude-Killy, the French IOC member who heads the coordination commission for the Sochi Games.
It’s still not clear if an athlete or spectator could be prosecuted for wearing a badge or rainbow pin or waving a small flag in solidarity with gay rights. Political gestures of any kind are also prohibited by the IOC.
The issue attracted attention at the world athletics championships in Moscow last week when Swedish high jumper Emma Green Tregaro painted her fingernails in the colors of the rainbow to support gay rights.
The gesture prompted Russian pole vault star Yelena Isinbayeva to complain that Green Tregaro was disrespecting Russia.
In his letter, Kozak said the legislation does not impose any restrictions on sexual orientation, and stressed the Russian constitution prohibits discrimination against anyone based on sex, race or religion.
The law on gay propaganda, he said, centers on the “restriction of information that promotes non-traditional sexual relationships among children.”
“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 said.
The letter added: “These requirements do not attract any limitations for participants and spectators of the Olympic Winter Games in Sochi on their legal right of residence in the territory of the Russian Federation or participation in any events stipulated in the Games program that are contradictory to the Olympic Charter or universally recognized standards of international law on human rights.”
Homosexuality was decriminalized in Russia in 1993 and Russian officials have been at pains to emphasize that the law does not penalize gay orientation or activity.
However, the law reflects widespread animosity toward homosexuals in Russian society and its vagueness troubles many. It appears possible that anyone wearing a rainbow flag on the street or writing about gay relationships on Facebook, for instance, could be accused of propagandizing.
—Stephen Wilson, AP Sports Writer
Blatter awaits Russian answer on anti-gay law
ULRICHEN, Switzerland (AP) - FIFA President Sepp Blatter expects a reply within days from Russia, the 2018 World Cup host, clarifying its law prohibiting gay “propaganda.”
Blatter told The Associated Press on Sunday that he asked “by letter and by personal contacts” up to Russian President Vladimir Putin for details about legislation that has provoked an international outcry leading to the 2014 Sochi Olympics.
“The office of Mr. Putin has promised to me that they will send all these documents in the first days of September,” Blatter said. “And I have also asked the Swiss embassy to look and to help us to obtain the correct versions of that.”
Russia’s law prohibiting promotion of “nontraditional” sexual relations has been denounced by activists and criticized by President Barack Obama.
Soccer’s governing body joined the IOC in asking Russia how the law would apply during their events, and if athletes and fans face discrimination.
“For the time being we have received only protests and demands from our football, sports or Olympics people. I have received nothing officially from the Russians,” said Blatter, who is also an International Olympic Committee member.
FIFA legal statutes state that discrimination is “punishable by suspension or expulsion” for individuals in football or member federations.
“When you speak with the Russians, they don’t speak about discrimination, they speak about protection (of minors). That is different. I said, `So please give me the evidence that you are protecting somebody and not discriminating,”’ Blatter told the AP on the sidelines of his annual charity soccer tournament in his family’s home village.
Blatter intends to table the issue at an Oct. 3-4 meeting of the 27-member FIFA executive committee, which includes Russia’s sports minister, Vitaly Mutko.
Blatter said he expects to meet with Mutko on 2018 World Cup business before the board meeting in Zurich.
He also offered to help the IOC deal with Russian authorities, and support the Olympic body’s new president who will be elected in a Sept. 10 vote that Blatter will attend in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
Last Thursday, the IOC announced it had a reply from Russia to clarify how the law would operate around the Feb. 7-23 Winter Games.
“We have today received strong written reassurances from the Russian government that everyone will be welcome at the games in Sochi regardless of their sexual orientation,” outgoing IOC President Jacques Rogge said in a statement.
Still, the letter did not address directly what would happen to Olympic athletes or fans if they make statements or gestures that Russian authorities consider propaganda.
—Graham Dunbar, AP Sports Writer
Putin bans rallies in Sochi near the 2014 Olympics
MOSCOW (AP) - Russian President Vladimir Putin has signed a decree banning demonstrations and rallies for two and a half months in Sochi around the 2014 Winter Olympics.
The Rossiyskaya Gazeta, the official government newspaper, published the presidential decree Friday, listing an array of measures tightening security in the Olympic host city, including the ban on public assemblies. All “gatherings, rallies, demonstrations, marches and pickets” that are not part of the Olympics or the Paralympics will be prohibited in Sochi from Jan. 7 to March 21, the decree said.
The Winter Olympics is taking place Feb. 7-23 in the Black Sea resort, and the Paralympics are being held March 7-16.
Government-imposed protest bans across entire cities where Olympics are held are unusual. Putin’s decree could be aimed at heading off demonstrations against Russia’s ban on alleged gay propaganda, a new law that has been sharply criticized in the West.
Among other measures in the decree are restrictions on vehicles entering Sochi. Only cars with local license plates, emergency vehicles and those accredited by the Olympic organizers will be allowed to enter the host city between Jan. 7 and March 21.
Rights organizations have voiced concerns about what they described as the “harassment and intimidation of civil society” advocates in Sochi. Human Rights Watch said in a statement that environmental, human rights and other activists have been “the targets of attacks, detention for peaceful protests and police searches.”
The International Olympic Committee received a letter Thursday from Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Kozak giving assurances that the host country will comply with the Olympic Charter’s provision against discrimination of any kind. The letter, however, defended Russia’s new anti-gay law and said it would be enforced.
International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge said Friday that he is “comforted” by Russia’s assurance the charter’s ban on discrimination will be respected.
“We are going to inform now all the national Olympic committees and all the athletes who want to have clarity,” Rogge told reporters after addressing the U.N. General Assembly.
Gay activist Nikolai Alexeyev told The Associated Press on Friday that he would petition the Supreme Court next week to contest the presidential decree banning rallies in Sochi as “violating our right of freedom of assembly.”
Russian authorities have repeatedly denied gay activists’ applications to set up a Pride House in Sochi during the games, but Alexeyev said he would apply for permission to hold a gay pride rally in Sochi on the opening day of the games anyway.
—Nataliya Vasillyeva , Associated Press