In less than a week's time, the eyes of the world will be on Sochi as the Winter Olympic flame is lit, and the nation's hopes and cheers will be with our athletes as they go for gold. However, while we cheer on Team GB, we must not lose sight of the plight of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people in Russia.
Since the passing of legislation last summer by the Duma which made the “promotion” of LGBT relationships to under-18s a federal offence, human rights campaigners report a serious deterioration in the rights and status of LGBT people in Russia. In 2012, Gay Pride marches were banned in Moscow for the next 100 years, and campaigners have been prosecuted AMID reports of increasing violence and brutality.
Although Russia has given the International Olympic Committee assurances that no individual travelling to Sochi will be subject to this legislation, comments by President Putin, and most recently by Anatoly Pakhomov, the Sochi Mayor who warned visitors not to “impose their habits on others”, do little to ease concerns about the position of those travelling to Sochi to enjoy the Games.
It is a stark reminder that, while we have come a long way in the UK in the last 20 years, individuals across the world face prejudice, imprisonment, torture and even execution because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
That is why when Maria Miller travels to Sochi next week, she must seize the opportunity to raise the issue of LGBT rights with Russian officials, and she must meet with Russian activists to build stronger links with the UK Government and UK organisations working on LGBT rights.
Russia must be under no illusion that the UK abhors the discrimination and persecution of individuals on the basis of their sexual orientation and identity. President Obama has set the example, naming prominent openly lesbian and gay athletes, such as Billie Jean King and Caitlin Cahow as part of the US delegation.
The Olympic and Paralympic Games have provided us some of the most powerful examples of human courage and diversity, from Jesse Owens's four gold medals in Berlin in 1936 to the Jamaican bobsleigh team of 1988 . As Principle 6 of the Olympic Charter tells us: “Sport does not discriminate on grounds of race, religion, politics, gender or otherwise”.
As LGBT History month begins, we must recognise the power of sport in overcoming prejudice and use the Sochi Olympics to work to improve LGBT rights, both in Russia and across the world.
Just as in 2012 the Olympic and Paralympic Games in London became a celebration of incredible diversity, these Winter Olympics must be no different.
Gloria De Piero is shadow Minister for Women and Equalities