Russia urged to respect gay rights at Sochi Olympics

PUBLISHED : Friday, 09 August, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 09 August, 2013, 4:32am

With the Sochi Olympics six months away, US president Barack Obama, British actor Stephen Fry and international gay rights group All Out have increased attention on Russia over its new anti-gay law.

The law, which was signed by President Vladimir Putin in June, bans "propaganda of non- traditional sexual relations" and had already seemed likely to spark protests until the end of the February 7-23 Winter Games. The issue gained more momentum as Moscow prepares to host International Olympic Committee leaders for meetings before the start of the athletics world championships tomorrow.

Obama cancelled a planned September meeting in Moscow with Putin in a diplomatic rebuke over Russia's harbouring of former NSA contactor Edward Snowden, having also said in a television interview hours earlier that he had "no patience" with countries that discriminate against gay people.

"I think they [Putin and Russia] understand that for most of the countries that participate in the Olympics, we wouldn't tolerate gays and lesbians being treated differently," Obama said to host Jay Leno on NBC's The Tonight Show.

Fry went further in an open letter to British Prime Minister David Cameron and IOC president Jacques Rogge, comparing Putin's "barbaric, fascist law" to persecution of Jewish people in Nazi Germany.

"An absolute ban on the Russian Winter Olympics of 2014 in Sochi is simply essential," Fry wrote. "At all costs, Putin cannot be seen to have the approval of the civilised world."

Fry's letter was delivered by All Out at Olympic headquarters in Lausanne along with a 320,000-name petition asking the IOC to denounce the law.

After a one-hour meeting with All Out campaigner Guillaume Bonnet, IOC spokesman Mark Adams said that the Olympic body "cannot enter into political debate". He added: "We very much respect and welcome gay athletes to the Games,"

All Out's Bonnet noted that Rogge will soon be in Moscow, where the IOC has a joint board meeting and news conference with the IAAF today. "That is an amazing moment to take a strong stand and ensure the IOC is the guardian of Olympic principles," Bonnet said.