MOSCOW: Gay athletes are welcome to participate in Russia’s 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi but must obey a new law banning “homosexual propaganda,” the country’s sports minister said Thursday.
Russian President Vladimir Putin in June signed into law legislation that punishes the dissemination of information about homosexuality to minors but which activists say can be used for a broad crackdown against gays.
The comments by Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko appear to contradict assurances from the International Olympic Committee last week that no athlete attending the games would be targeted by the law.
“The law talks not about banning a non-traditional orientation but about other things, about propaganda and implicating minors,” Mutko told the R-Sport news agency.
“No one is banning a sportsman with a non-traditional sexual orientation from going to Sochi. But if he goes out onto the street and starts to make propaganda, then of course he will be brought to responsibility.
“As a sportsman, he should respect the law of a country,” Mutko added. “Come (to Sochi), but don’t get young people involved, don’t make propaganda. This is what we are talking about.”
Foreigners found guilty of violating the law can not only be fined up to 5,000 rubles ($156, 114 euros) but face administrative arrest of up to 15 days and eventual deportation.
Russian officials rarely use words like “gay” and “homosexual” and prefer to use the phrase “non-traditional sexuality” to describe same-sex love.
The law has aroused concerns among activists about whether Russia is fit to host the Games, the biggest sporting event it has held in its post-Soviet history, and even calls for a Cold War-style boycott.
Mutko’s comments infuriated activists, coming after the IOC said last week it had received assurances at the “highest level” within the Russian government that the legislation would not affect those attending the games.
Gay activists have also been calling for a boycott of Russian vodka, whose brands have traditionally been popular in gay clubs.