'No discrimination against gay athletes': Olympic chief Jacques Rogge joins growing clamour over winter Games in Russia

Head of the International Olympic Committee said he was waiting for further clarification despite receiving Kremlin reassurances

The head of the International Olympic Committee has insisted there should be no discrimination against gay athletes at this winter's Games in Russia. 

In one of his strongest statements yet on the issue Jacques Rogge, said  he was waiting for further clarification despite receiving written reassurances from the Kremlin over whether the draconian new laws which criminalise the promotion of non-heterosexual lifestyles would be applied to those taking part in events at the Black Sea resort of Sochi in February.

Speaking in Moscow, where the world athletics championship is due to get underway, Mr Rogge said persecution of athletes based on their sexuality was unacceptable.

"The Olympic charter is clear," he said. "A sport is a human right and it should be available to all, regardless of race, sex or sexual orientation," he added. 

His comments come amid mounting pressure from around the world to strip Russia of the right to hold the Games where it is feared openly gay athletes, coaches, fans or media could be arrested or fined under the recent legislation.

Mr Rogge said it was "important" that all Olympic visitors should be allowed to speak and act openly when they were at the Games.

Campaigners say there is evidence of a wave of attacks against gay young men in the country and opponents say President Putin is waging a "silent war" on the LGBT community to divert attention from the country's woes.

More than 50,000 people have signed a petition by Change.org demanding the Games be relocated whilst demonstrations are taking place this weekend outside the Russian consulate in Edinburgh and several thousand protesters are expected to descend on Westminster to express their anger.

Opposition to anti-gay persecution was galvanised this week when the actor Stephen Fry wrote an open letter to the IOC and Prime Minister David Cameron calling for a boycott and comparing the Sochi Games to those held in Berlin in 1936.

The British Olympic Association is said it was monitoring the situation closely and would act on the advice of Mr Rogge. But confusion over what will happen to athletes has fuelled the row, with many believing the prospect of a boycott is highly unlikely.

Mixed messages continued to emanate from the Russian Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko who insisted Russia would not back down under political pressure. "Russia must understand that the stronger we are, the more other people aren't going to like it. We have a unique country. We don't have to be afraid of threats to boycott the Olympic Games," he said.

However, he earlier said athletes should be "relaxed" and assured them their rights would be protected before adding "but of course you have to respect the laws of the country you are in."

Conservative MP Simon Kirby became the latest British political figure to call for the UK to take a stronger role urging Foreign Secretary William Hague to "lead in the international condemnation of the Russian Government's treatment of LGBT people."

The Winter Olympics are being seen by President Putin as vital in helping improve Russia's around the world. However the Games have been dogged by criticism over cost over-runs and allegations of corruption.

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