Will LGBT Athletes Be Safe in Sochi? IOC Says Yes, Russian Pol Says No

Jim Burroway

July 31st, 2013

Following the passage Russia’s new law outlawing all advocacy by or for LGBT people, a law which includes hefty fines and potential jail sentences, there have been reports of increased violence against people perceived to be gay. This has led to worldwide concern over Russia’s hosting of the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi. Calls to boycott the games themselves have stalled, but a boycott of Russian Vodka and other products is picking up steam. It’s doubtful that the boycott itself will have much of an economic impact, but it has succeeded far beyond most boycotts in drawing attention to the problem. Meanwhile, one Russian LGBT group led by Nikolai Alekseev have announced a Pride event in Sochi to coincide with the games’ opening day. The International Olympic Committee on Friday released a statement reassuring the world that LGBT athletes competing in the games will be safe:

“The IOC has received assurances from the highest level of government in Russia that the legislation will not affect those attending or taking part in the Games,” according to the statement emailed to USA TODAY Sports.

…”This legislation has just been passed into law and it remains to be seen whether and how it will be implemented, particularly as regards the Games in Sochi,” the IOC said. “As a sporting organization, what we can do is to continue to work to ensure that the Games can take place without discrimination against athletes, officials, spectators and the media.”

Those assurances, obviously, miss the point. Conspicuously missing from the list of people who will not be affected by the new law during the games are LGBT Russians. And besides, St. Petersburg legislator Vitaly Milonov, the co-sponsor of Russia’s “homosexual propaganda” bill, says that the law cannot be selectively suspended:

The man behind the anti-propaganda law, Vitaly Milonov, reportedly said in an interview with Interfax that “if a law has been approved by the federal legislature and signed by the president, then the government has no right to suspend it. It doesn’t have the authority.”

Milonov also reportedly said he’s received support from both American and German politicians for his stance.

…Even if the laws are not enforced during the Olympics, gay visitors may face a local backlash. Three-quarters of Russians say society should not accept homosexuality, according to a recent Pew Research Center survey. Just 16 percent say society should be accepting of the LGBT community. The numbers aren’t much different among young Russians, either: Just 21 percent of those polled under 30 thought homosexuality should be accepted.


July 31st, 2013

“It remains to be seen how this law will be implemented.” No, it doesn’t. It has already been implemented with foreign visitors detained and deported and with unchecked violence against Russian citizens believed to be gay.

It is too late to move the 2014 Winter Games to another venue — even Vancouver probably could not “re-host” them. And no one could have predicted when Sochi was chosen six or so years ago that these laws would have been passed. The IOC probably can prevent actions against athletes, officials, and the media, and spectators while they are in Olympic venues. But the IOC cannot provide a hate-free, violence-free zone throughout Sochi and environs, or at passport control at the airports.


July 31st, 2013

I think if the athletes started a movement to write “Gay is OK” in Russian conspicuously on their face (Tebow-style band-aids under eyes, lol) or wear a rainbow ribbon, etc. it would really make a great point.

Timothy Kincaid

July 31st, 2013

“…it remains to be seen whether and how it will be implemented, particularly as regards the Games in Sochi”

Yes. That’s precisely the point. It’s not exactly wise to say, “y’all c’mon out to Russia” if you don’t know whether competitors, family, and supporters will be safe.

And what about the gay village that usually is constructed as a safe space for LGBT athletes and visitors? Is the state going to disallow or shut that down and jail all participants?

It’s all that “remaining to be seen” stuff that is causing concern.

Timothy Kincaid

July 31st, 2013

It is too late to move the 2014 Winter Games to another venue

That’s probably true. However, it would be difficult – but not impossible – to find a venue that could hold the winter olympics in 2015 instead of 2014. Sure that means that Russia spent a pile of money to host an event that doesn’t happen but I just can’t bring myself to feel sorry.


July 31st, 2013

Russian LGBT activists say that signing this petition is the most effective thing we can do now. Block Russian homophobes Mizulina and Milonov (probably closet gays themselves) from accessing their assets stashed in Western countries. Sign now! https://petitions.whitehouse.gov/petition/put-elena-mizulina-and-vitaly-milonov-visa-ban-list-their-role-creating-russias-ban-gay-propaganda/mYMFcF9W

Richard Rush

July 31st, 2013

I’d like to see entire teams of athletes from gay-friendly countries carrying rainbow flags into the opening ceremonies which are, of course, televised around the world. If necessary, there could be an incentive for the teams: “Either our country boycotts the Olympics, or you carry the rainbow flags. Your choice.”


July 31st, 2013

The petition to block the Russian homophobes of their assets in foreign countries is a good one, but they should add the Russian Orthodox Church to that list.

Just as in the 19th century when it supported and encouraged the anti-Jewish pogroms, the chruch is actively fomenting the anti-gay violence in Russia.

For them it’s just another pogrom to rid the country of undesirables.

Regan DuCasse

July 31st, 2013

Can’t the venue be changed? They dont’ have to stay on track for Sochi, do they? Why not Montreal? I’d hate for athletes who have worked so hard and some it’s their only shot to have to sacrifice attending.
Excluding any countries for their human rights abuses and cancelling the venue for another one, makes more sense?


July 31st, 2013

As for the Games pulling out of Sochi, the IOC doesn’t have the balls, or the will. Their own record of support for LGBTs is spotty at best. My guess is that they’re just hoping it blows over so they can go back to business as usual.


July 31st, 2013

I Like Richard’s idea. I wonder how much it would cost to make sure that every American athlete walking into the stadium is carrying a rainbow flag?


July 31st, 2013

Hunter is exactly right. And follow the MONEY. The broadcast rights have already been sold. They aren’t moving ANYTHING.

Ben in Oakland

July 31st, 2013

I like Richards idea great deal, but we’re asking those athletes to take a great risk. They are not going to move the games, for sure. Too much money at stake for the rights of a few homos. My own guess is that people will just obey the law, and they won’t be in any danger. My hope is that a whole bunch of countries and a whole bunch of competitors will refuse to take part.


July 31st, 2013

Here is another interview Milonov gave (the Russian original):
Alas, Google Translate does a terrible job of it. :(
I have yet to search the Interfax interview.

I’m afraid he is technically right: that is the law of the Russian Federation, and the government has no right to make exemptions from it. It’s an extremely messy situation… and in the end the government will do whatever Putin tells them to do, of course.


July 31st, 2013

Oh hey, if the Mormons allowed some flexibility to their liquor laws for the 2002 Winter Olympics, I think Putin can bite his lip for the two weeks in February.

I’m against a boycott. This is for the athletes and nothing should take this opportunity away from them.

One idea that has been bandied about would be those willing (not be forced) to wear a some sort of symbol of Gay Equality during the 2014 Sochi Olympics. With me being a slave to fashion I would hope something like the popular Roots beret at Salt Lake City’s 2002 Olympics would suit me better than a flag. (You are on the right track Richard Rush but we can be a little more imaginative.)

Pin trading is a big part of the Olympics but we need something to stand out.

I’m sure someone at Ralph Lauren will accommodate us when we see the athletes march in the opening ceremonies. (RL is the official Team USA uniform.)

But, in any case, we are getting press about this now and that’s a good thing.


August 1st, 2013

The state-sponsored violence against gays and lesbians will be of even of more concern – Putin will carry on with his “those dirty homosexuals have the same rights as every other Russian” while his neo-fascist thugs are roaming the streets of Munich, I mean St. Petersburg, looking for gays to torture.

Meanwhile the IAAF World Championships which will be held in 2 weeks in Moscow seem to be flying under the gaydar. Maybe everyone thinks the sprinters will be able to get away from the thugs – in fact, all the anti-gay state organizations and thousands of neo-nazis are centralized in Moscow rather than some distant Black Sea resort.


August 1st, 2013

There must be rampant homosexuality in the Russian government? It’s a proven psychological fact that that’s the way things work. The guilty will deny at all costs. That must be why Putin tries to prove his manhood with these latest pictures of himself running around shirtless and catching giant fish with his bare hands. It’s guilt, he’s a homosexual! That must be why he stole Kraft’s super bowl ring, he couldn’t resist the glitter! That must be why there’s rampant alcohol use over there. They are all so oppressed. Their government has created a sick society. Vitaly Milanov, author of the St. Petersburg “anti-LGBT propaganda law,” said that he has no reason to suspect that guests and athletes will be granted exceptions under the rule. He also went on to vouch for the sterling heterosexual credentials of the men of Russia’s figure skating team. This Vitaly must be a real Queen and if he’s vouching for the MEN’S FIGURE SKATING TEAM, what’s that tell you, LOL! GUILT, GUILT, GUILT. One and one is two!

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