Gay Olympians competing at Sochi Winter Games face risk of prosecution under Russia’s crackdown

Minister confirms that athletes and fans who ‘flaunt’ their sexuality will be prosecuted

Moscow

Gay competitors in next year’s Winter Olympics risk arrest by Russian police if they engage in “propaganda” of their homosexuality, Russia’s Sports Minister has confirmed.

In a direct contradiction of assurances from Olympic officials that competitors and spectators attending the Sochi Olympics next February would be exempt from the controversial new law, Vitaly Mutko said competitors who flaunted their sexuality would be punished in accordance with the legislation.

“No one is forbidding a sportsperson with non-traditional sexual orientation from coming to Sochi, but if they go onto the street and start propagandising it, then of course they will be held accountable,” Mr Mutko told Russian agency R-Sport during a visit to Barcelona.

Last week, the International Olympic Committee told a Russian agency that it had “received assurances from the highest level of government in Russia that the legislation will not affect those attending or taking part in the Games”.

Mr Mutko’s comments are an unequivocal rejection of these claims. “Whether they are sportspeople or not, if they go to another country, they should respect its laws,” said the Sports Minister.

President Vladimir Putin signed the controversial law banning so-called “gay propaganda” into force in June, after both houses of the Russian parliament had voted overwhelmingly for it.

The language of the law is vague, but “propaganda” of homosexuality includes statements that gay relationships are “socially equal” to straight relationships.

The key distinction is that the propaganda has to be publicised in the vicinity of minors, but gay rights activists have pointed out that this makes counselling for gay teenagers illegal along with any attempt to tell children that there is nothing wrong with homosexual relations.

So far, police have taken people holding rainbow flags or placards bearing slogans calling for equal rights for gay people in public places as evidence of “propaganda”. Individuals can be fined for breaching the law, while foreigners can be detained and deported from the country.

A Dutch television crew filming a documentary about gay rights was detained under the law in the northern city of Murmansk last month, though in the end they were not charged.

The crew were detained while conducting a seminar with local LGBT group Center Maximum. Members of Center Maximum were also arrested.

New Zealand speed skater Blake Skjellerup, one of the only known openly gay competitors going to Sochi, told The Independent that he planned to attend the Olympics and wear a rainbow Gay Pride pin while competing. He said that he would do this even if there was a threat of arrest for doing so. “Whatever country you are from and whomever you choose to love, you should be able to compete at the Olympics,” he said.

As Russia’s anti-gay laws have come under increasing attention in recent days, there have been calls from some gay rights groups in the US to boycott the Sochi Olympics, but the majority of Russian gay activists say this would be counterproductive.

Mr Skjellerup also said he felt a boycott was the worst idea possible, as it would only hurt competitors. Instead, he said, the Olympics should be used to “help bring about change in Russia”.

Russian gay activists have called on spectators and competitors at the games to wear rainbow pins and hold rainbow flags in protest against the laws. Given Mr Mutko’s words, this could lead to mass arrests, if the Russian authorities are really determined to implement the law.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
Hillary Clinton comments on viral Humans of New York photo of gay teenager
Arts and Entertainment
The gang rape scene in the Royal Opera’s production of Gioachino Rossini’s Guillaume Tell has caused huge controversy
music
Sport
wimbledonScot will face Ivo Karlovic next
Life and Style
Kissing
life
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Spanish Speaking

£17000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - German Speaking

£17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Japanese Speaking

£17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: If you are fluent in Japanese a...

Recruitment Genius: Graphic Designer - Immediate Start

£16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Day In a Page

Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
10 best statement lightbulbs

10 best statement lightbulbs

Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
Wimbledon 2015: Heather Watson - 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Heather Watson: 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Briton pumped up for dream meeting with world No 1
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

Dustin Brown

Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
Ashes 2015: Damien Martyn - 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Damien Martyn: 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Australian veteran of that Ashes series, believes the hosts' may become unstoppable if they win the first Test