The head of Russia's National Olympic Committee told an English language Russian website today that his country will enforce a law criminalizing displays of homosexuality and support of gay rights in front of minors during the Olympic Winter Games in Sochi next year. And the International Olympic Committee has said through a spokesperson that it will indirectly aid the enforcement effort.
“If a person does not put across his views in the presence of children, no measures against him can be taken,” Alexander Zhukov said in a statement that was intended to calm the fears of LGBT athletes, spectators and media personnel who attend the games. But it only raised more concerns about how the law’s vague reference to promoting homosexuality to minors will play out among foreign visitors. For example, would visitors be violating the law if children saw them on television wearing a rainbow pin?
The International Olympic Committee has asked for clarification of how the law will be applied during the games. But the IOC has also made it clear that anyone who proactively expresses support for gay rights will be dismissed from the competition as well as the venue.
An IOC spokesperson told the press that the organization “has a clear rule laid out in the Olympic Charter (Rule 50) which states that the venues of the Olympic Games are not a place for proactive political or religious demonstration. This rule has been in place for many years and applied when necessary."
Rule 50 states: "No kind of demonstration or political, religious or racial propaganda is permitted in any Olympic sites, venues or other areas."
The IOC’s position squashes any expression of protest at the games. Activists worldwide have been calling on lesbian and gay athletes to demonstrate their Pride in Sochi to show solidarity with Russia’s persecuted LGBT citizens and draw attention to the government’s cruel and inhumane treatment of gays. But the IOC’s statement means that defiance of the country’s law will not be tolerated.
Foreign citizens charged under the law face 15 days in jail, a maximum fine of $30,000 and deportation.
Soccer’s world governing body has followed the IOC in calling on Russia to clarify the controversial law. The 2018 World Cup, the world’s most highly watched event, has also been scheduled in Russia.
A 320,000-signature petition protesting Russia’s repression of gays was delivered to the International Committee’s headquarters in Lausanne, Switzerland, on Aug. 7. The petition, delivered by the group All Out, asks the IOC to condemn the Russian law and asks Russia to ensure the security of all visitors, athletes and Russian people before, during, and after the games.
Other activists are calling on the IOC to move the games to Vancouver, where they were last held and where facilities to accommodate the games still exist. And still others are calling for boycotts of companies that air commercials during NBC’s broadcast of the games.
Ironically, the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver featured a Pride House, the Olympics’ first-ever “gay space.” LGBT athletes and fans used the facility to meet up, relax and watch the games on television.
The 2012 London Games also featured a Pride House.