Russian sports minister: Gay athletes ‘must respect Russian law’

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A Russian sports minister has said that gay athletes are welcome to participate in Russia’s 2014 Winter Olympic Games, but must also obey the controversial law banning “gay propaganda”.

President Vladimir Putin signed the law in June banning the promotion of “non-traditional relationships” toward minors, a move that has been criticised as part of a broader crackdown on Russia’s gay community.

Four Dutch tourists shooting a film about gay rights in Russia were arrested last month, the first foreigners to be detained under the new law.

The law has so far sparked controversy among LGBT activists, with some calling for a boycott of the 2014 Games. Others have also called to boycott Russian vodka as a form of protest.

Last month, the International Olympics Committee said in a statement that it had received reassurance from the Russian government that athletes and spectators will be exempt from the country’s anti-gay laws.

But sports minister Vitaly Mutko said in a recent interview: “The law talks not about banning a non-traditional orientation but about other things, about propaganda and implicating minors”.

He added: “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.”

Mr Mutko also said that sportsmen should respect the laws of the country.

He said: “Come, 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 are not only liable to be fined, but face arrests of up to 15 days and eventual deportation.

Russian officials rarely use words like “gay” and “homosexual” to describe same-sex orientations, and prefer instead the phrase “non-traditional sexuality”.

Last month, speaking exclusively to PinkNews, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg urged Russia to protect the rights of LGBT citizens following concerns about gay athletes and spectators attending the 2014 Winter Olympics.

He said: “Those days should be long behind us now and for those countries and those governments and regimes who don’t see it that way I think they have to move with the times.”

An organisation representing LGBT people in Russia announced last month that it is opposed to a boycott of the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics – because they say participation is an important way of highlighting injustice.