People attending the Winter Olympics in the Russian Black Sea resort of Sochi next February will not be affected by a controversial law which is viewed as being anti-gay, Sochi Games president Dmitry Chernyshenko said on Sunday.
Chernyshenko, who masterminded the successful campaign to win the right to host the Games which came to fruition in 2007 in Guatemala City, assured the assembled members of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) that the law did not contradict the Olympic Charter, which forbids any form of discrimination.
The legislation was signed into law by Russian President Vladimir Putin in June.
It bans “homosexual propaganda” to minors — although Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko said it also sought to protect the young from alcohol and drugs — a vague piece of legislation that is seen as an instrument for a crackdown against gays.
Veteran Norwegian IOC member Gerhard Heiberg, prompted by concerns voiced by Olympic sponsors from the United States, sought clarification from Chernyshenko of the potential for trouble should the law be contravened during the Games.
“I have heard a lot from American sponsors of what they fear might happen,” said Heiberg, who emphasised that he and the sponsors were not trying to change Russian laws.
“I think this could ruin the Games a lot for us. We have to stick to our (IOC) rule about no demonstrations but we must also be prepared for such things happening,” added the 74-year-old industrialist, who was president of the organising committee at the 1994 Winter Games in Lillehammer, Norway.
Chernyshenko, a native of Sochi, said there should be no fears over the freedom of all people coming to Sochi for what is the first Winter Games to be held in Russia.
“The Russian Constitution guarantee equality of rights and freedom and it explicitly prohibits any prejudice against religion, race and sex,” he said.
“We make this clear that the recent law does not prohibit homosexuality and does not contradict any element of the Olympic Charter.
“We are absolutely confident there will be no conflicts in that regard. The law will have no impact on the ability of athletes, fans or a member of the Olympic Family to participate at the Games.
“I would like to use the greatest example of our diversity of how President Putin awarded the highest honour to a homosexual recently. It is important to stop the speculation on this.”
IOC President Jacques Rogge, who steps down on Tuesday after a 12-year spell in charge, supported Chernyshenko’s assurances saying the IOC had received the required clarification they had demanded on the law from the Russian government.
“We had very strong oral and written assurances from the government and declarations by President Putin,” the 71-year-old Belgian said.
“The Constitution of Russian Federations allows for homosexuality and we have received strong reassurances that this will be the same for participants and by that I mean also the spectators.”
However, Rogge added that the athletes due to compete in Sochi will also be warned over not breaking IOC rules which forbids athletes to demonstrate or make political gestures.
“This definitely is important in terms of informing the athletes of rule 50 of the IOC and they will be straight after the Session (in Buenos Aires), the same as we did the athletes before the 2008 Beijing Games.”