Russia: Sochi organisers persuade Olympics Committee to help ‘stop this campaign’ over anti-gay laws

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The head of the Sochi Olympics has asked the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to “stop this campaign and this speculation” over Russia’s controversial anti-gay “propaganda” laws.

At the IOC general assembly on Sunday, Sochi organising chief Dmitry Chernyshenko was challenged on the possible impact of Russian legislation that bans gay “propaganda” ahead of the Winter Games, which potentially criminalises any athlete or spectator who carries a rainbow flag or signals they are LGBT.

Mr Chernyshenko responded that the Russian government has made clear the law would not affect the games, and he urged the IOC to convey the message to “those who are still trying to speculate on this very transparent and very clear topic.”

He said: “It’s very important to have your support to stop this campaign and this speculation regarding this issue.”

Meanwhile, a senior IOC member said sponsors are “afraid” of the fallout of possible demonstrations at the Olympic Games.

“I think this could ruin a lot for all of us,” marketing commission chairman Gerhard Heiberg said. “We have to be prepared.”

IOC President Jacques Rogge said the Olympic body will remind athletes to refrain from any protests or political gestures during the games in February.

Mr Chernyshenko also said the law does not ban being gay in any way and “doesn’t contradict any element of the Olympic Charter.”

He noted that President Vladimir Putin had assured that the Russian constitution “guarantees the equality of rights and freedom for everybody” in the country, including athletes and spectators.

Earlier this month, Putin claimed that charges of homophobia were exaggerated and that Russia could not be homophobic because “Tchaikovsky was said to have been gay” and Russians love his music.

Mr Chernyshenko cited comments by Putin in the recent interview, reiterating the President’s claim that he sometimes awards gay people “with state prizes or decorations for their achievements in various fields.”

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. The law imposes large fines, and also means foreign citizens would have to spend 15 days in prison.

Putin also signed a decree last month banning all demonstrations and rallies in Sochi throughout the Winter Games.

Mr Chernyshenko added: “We are absolutely confident that there will be no conflicts in that regards. It will not stop (Sochi) 2014 from proudly upholding the Olympic values, I promise you.”

Mr Rogge said the IOC is satisfied with Russia’s explanations on the law so far.

He said: “The constitution of the Russian federations allows for homosexuality. And we have received strong reassurances that this law will not affect participants in the Sochi Games.”

Earlier this month, Mr Rogge said: “One should not forget that we are staging the games in a sovereign state and the IOC cannot be expected to have an influence on the sovereign affairs of a country.”

Norwegian IOC member Gerhard Heiberg, chairman of the IOCs marketing commission, mentioned concerns from sponsors about demonstrations.

He said: “Lately there has been a lot of discussion, especially in Western Europe and in the United States, and I’m being pushed by several of the sponsors asking what will happen with this new law in Russian in connection with the gay community.

“We are not to try to change anything over the laws in Russia. We will of course accept this as internal Russian decision. But what will the consequences be?”

Mr Heiberg brought to attention Rule 50 of the Olympic Charter, which says “no kind of demonstration or political, religious or racial propaganda is permitted in any Olympic sites, venues or other areas.”

He said: “We have to be prepared. We can see many ways this could happen. I heard a lot from the sponsors, especially the American sponsors, what they are afraid of could happen.

“I think this could ruin a lot for all of us. We have to be prepared. We have to stick to Rule 50 in the Olympic Charter. But again, be prepared. I hope this can be discussed. … Hopefully we will start a discussion knowing how to handle whatever might happen in this.”

Mr Rogge said athletes would immediately be reminded to obey IOC regulations prohibiting protests.

He said: “Definitely this is important in terms of informing the athletes about the responsibility of Rule 50.

“We are going to do this immediately after this session, the same way we have done it before the Beijing Games, to inform the athletes and the national Olympic committees of the rules of rule 50.”

The Olympic Charter also reads: ”The practice of sport is a human right. Every individual must have the possibility of practising sport, without discrimination of any kind and in the Olympic spirit, which requires mutual understanding with a spirit of friendship, solidarity and fair play.”

Previously, Mr Heiberg said that Russia must either obey the guidelines of this charter rule or “we have to say goodbye to them.”

Outside the presentation of Sochi officials, at the Russian embassy in Buenos Aires, a few dozen people campaigned against Russia’s anti-gay laws.

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