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


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
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Life and Style
love + sex
Arts and Entertainment
Victoria Wood, Kayvan Novak, Alexa Chung, Chris Moyles
tvReview: No soggy bottoms, but plenty of other baking disasters on The Great Comic Relief Bake Off
Ashley Young celebrates the winner for Manchester United against Newcastle
footballNewcastle 0 Man United 1: Last minute strike seals precious victory
Life and Style
Tikka Masala has been overtaken by Jalfrezi as the nation's most popular curry
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
Seth Rogan is one of America’s most famous pot smokers
filmAmy Pascal resigned after her personal emails were leaked following a cyber-attack sparked by the actor's film The Interview
Benjamin Netanyahu and his cartoon bomb – the Israeli PM shows his ‘evidence’
Arts and Entertainment
80s trailblazer: comedian Tracey Ullman
Life and Style
A statue of the Flemish geographer Gerard Kremer, Geradus Mercator (1512 - 1594) which was unveiled at the Geographical Congree at Anvers. He was the first person to use the word atlas to describe a book of maps.
techThe 16th century cartographer created the atlas
Arts and Entertainment
Stephen Tompkinson is back as DCI Banks
tvReview: Episode one of the new series played it safe, but at least this drama has a winning formula
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: UI / UX Designer

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This firm are focussed on assis...

Recruitment Genius: General Processor

£7 per hour: Recruitment Genius: A vacancy has arisen for a General Processor ...

Recruitment Genius: Outbound Sales Executive - B2B

£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A great opportunity has arisen ...

Recruitment Genius: Online Sales and Customer Services Associate

£14000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Full time and Part time positio...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis
The Internet of Things: Meet the British salesman who gave real-world items a virtual life

Setting in motion the Internet of Things

British salesman Kevin Ashton gave real-world items a virtual life
Election 2015: Latest polling reveals Tories and Labour on course to win the same number of seats - with the SNP holding the balance of power

Election 2015: A dead heat between Mr Bean and Dick Dastardly!

Lord Ashcroft reveals latest polling – and which character voters associate with each leader
Audiences queue up for 'true stories told live' as cult competition The Moth goes global

Cult competition The Moth goes global

The non-profit 'slam storytelling' competition was founded in 1997 by the novelist George Dawes Green and has seen Malcolm Gladwell, Salman Rushdie and Molly Ringwald all take their turn at the mic
Pakistani women come out fighting: A hard-hitting play focuses on female Muslim boxers

Pakistani women come out fighting

Hard-hitting new play 'No Guts, No Heart, No Glory' focuses on female Muslim boxers
Leonora Carrington transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star

Surreal deal: Leonora Carrington

The artist transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star
LGBT History Month: Pupils discuss topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage

Education: LGBT History Month

Pupils have been discussing topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage
11 best gel eyeliners

Go bold this season: 11 best gel eyeliners

Use an ink pot eyeliner to go bold on the eyes with this season's feline flicked winged liner
Cricket World Cup 2015: Tournament runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

Cricket World Cup runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

The tournament has reached its halfway mark and scores of 300 and amazing catches abound. One thing never changes, though – everyone loves beating England
Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Heptathlete ready to jump at first major title

Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Ready to jump at first major title

After her 2014 was ruined by injury, 21-year-old Briton is leading pentathlete going into this week’s European Indoors. Now she intends to turn form into gold
Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot