Anti-gay law leads to calls for boycott of Sochi Olympics

Athletes must not advocate ‘non-traditional’ sexual orientation

 Russian sports minister Vitaly Mutko and   prime minister Vladimir Putin (right).

Russian sports minister Vitaly Mutko and prime minister Vladimir Putin (right).


Russia’s minister of sports, Vitaly Mutko, said on Thursday that foreign athletes travelling to Russia for the 2014 Olympics in Sochi would be expected obey a new Russian law banning “homosexual propaganda” or face criminal prosecution.

Mutko said gay athletes were welcome to attend the Games, but insisted that under the new law no athlete or visitor could advocate a “nontraditional” sexual orientation. The statement seemed sure to further ignite criticism of the law, which has already become a point of contention surrounding the Games, with some calls for a boycott. A series of legislation and statements by church and political officials about the law have been denounced as homophobic.

“No one is forbidding a sportsman with a nontraditional sexual orientation to come to Sochi,” Mutko said. “But if he goes out on the street and starts to propagandise it, then of course he will be held accountable. Even if he’s a sportsman, when he comes to a country, he should respect its laws.”

The law, which Russian President Vladimir Putin signed last month, imposes a fine of up to $116 for individuals who propagandise “nontraditional” sexual relationships among minors, but the law is so vague that it is widely interpreted as a broader effort to restrict open advocacy of homosexuality.

Olympics boycott
Those who violate the law may also be arrested, and foreigners could face deportation. The legislation has provoked anger from gay rights advocates outside of Russia. On Wednesday, activists dumped several cases of vodka outside of the Russian consulate in New York, while calling for a boycott of the Olympics and sponsors of the Games. In an attempt to head off the controversy last week, the IOC said it had “received assurances from the highest level of government in Russia that the legislation will not affect those attending or taking part in the Games.”

Mutko’s statements, however, seemed to undermine that claim, and might reflect conflicts among senior authorities over how to handle what has become a sensitive issue ahead of an event meant to highlight Russia’s global stature. The Kremlin has pursued an increasingly conservative agenda since Putin’s return to the presidency last year, aligning its politics with the Russian Orthodox Church.

Last month, the leader of the Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill I, called the legalisation of same-sex marriage a “very dangerous symptom of the apocalypse.” Mutko attempted to portray the situation at the Olympics as a question of law and order, comparing it to the ongoing world swimming championships in Barcelona. “Take the swimmers in Barcelona for instance,” he said. “They can’t go out on the street and start breaking local laws. It’s the same here.”
New York Service