MOSCOW: Russia on Friday said it was unperturbed by threats of an Olympic boycott over a controversial law banning “homosexual propaganda”, despite wide-ranging criticism of the legislation from rights groups to US President Barack Obama.
President Vladimir Putin passed the law in June as part of a wider political crackdown but it has cast a shadow over the build-up to next year’s Winter Olympics in Sochi over claims it infringes fundamental rights.
Obama said Friday he was “offended” by the law, but stressed that a boycott of the Games would be inappropriate.
Pressure on Moscow has mounted this week after the openly gay British actor Stephen Fry called for Russia to be barred from hosting the Games over what he called the “barbaric” law.
Activists have also been calling for a boycott of Russian vodka, whose brands have traditionally been popular in gay clubs while the hashtags #BoycottRussia and #BoycottSochi have become increasingly popular on Twitter.
The country’s sports minister Vitaly Mutko on Thursday stoked the issue further by saying athletes, activists and the international community should “calm down”.
But he said on Friday that the clamor for athletes to stay away was only “light pressure”, adding: “We should not be afraid of an Olympic Games boycott.
“Russia must understand that it is stronger, no matter how much someone may dislike this fact,” he was quoted as saying by the Interfax news agency.
“As for that law, it is not aimed at restricting the rights of citizens, irrespective of their nationality, faith or any other inclinations.
“This law is aimed at banning propaganda for minors. No-one is going to infringe on anyone’s rights.”
The law has however sparked anger. On Friday evening, more than 300 people took part in a “kissing party” in a show of defiance outside the Russian consulate in Antwerp, Belgium.
Obama stressed however that no one should boycott the Games.
“I want to just make very clear right now, I do not think it’s appropriate to boycott the Olympics,” he said on Friday.
“We’ve got a bunch of Americans out there who are training hard. Who are doing everything they can to. . . succeed.
“One of the things I’m really looking forward to is maybe some gay and lesbian athletes bringing home the gold, silver or bronze, which would I think go a long way in rejecting the kind of attitudes that we’re seeing there.”
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) reaffirmed its commitment to a discrimination-free Games but said it was unable to make a decision about measures to take because of a lack of clarity over the law.