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Sochi wants IOC help to stop anti-gay law controversy

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina - The head of Sochi’s 2014 Winter Olympic organizing committee, Dmitry Chernyshenko, wants the International Olympic Committee to help snuff out the growing firestorm over Russia’s new anti-gay law.

Speaking Sunday while updating IOC members on Sochi’s preparations, Cherynshenko asked for the IOC’s aid to “stop this campaign and speculation.”

The IOC likely would agree with that suggestion.

IOC President Jacques Rogge of Belgium said Sunday athletes will be warned about violating the clause in Olympic Charter rule 50 that says, “No kind of demonstration or political, religious or racial propaganda is permitted in any Olympic sites, venues or other areas.”

And the head of the IOC’s marketing commission, Gerhard Heiberg of Norway, said Olympic sponsors feared for the backlash that could be created by the controversy and the way any such demonstrations are handled.

The law allows the Russian authorities to fine, jail and deport foreigners guilty of “propaganda of non-traditional sexual traditions.”

"I have heard a lot from sponsors, especially the American sponsors, who are afraid for what could happen,” Heiberg said.  “This could ruin a lot for all of us.  We have to be prepared.  We have to stick to rule 50.”

Six of the IOC’s 10 global sponsors are U.S-based: Coke, Dow, GE, McDonald’s, P&G and Visa.

Chernyshenko reiterated pledges from the Russian government that the law will have no impact on athletes and spectators at the Sochi Games.  He said the law “does not contradict any part of the Olympic Charter or stop Sochi 2014 from proudly upholding Olympic values.”

Article 6 of the “Fundamental Principles of Olympism” in the Olympic Charter says, “Any form of discrimination with regard to a country or a person on grounds of race, religion, politics, gender or otherwise is incompatible with belonging to the Olympic Movement.”

Members of Russia’s LGBT community and human rights activists fear the new law, with terms that are vague, is just a smokescreen for discrimination against anyone who is LGBT.

Russian President Vladimir Putin tried to allay such fears during an interview last week with the Associated Press.

“I assure you I work with these people,” Putin said of gays.  “I sometimes award them with state prizes.”

Putin also signed a decree banning demonstrations and rallies in Sochi during the Winter Olympics.

It remains unclear what the IOC might do to athletes who wear symbols of LGBT support, such as rainbow pins, or speak out against the Russian legislation.

“We don’t want the Games to be a platform for demonstrations,” IOC spokesman Mark Adams said Sunday.  “During the Games, if athletes are asked a question at a press conference, they can express themselves – or outside the venues.”

The IOC has pointedly refused to speak out against the law itself, expressing concern only over its impact during the Olympics and Paralympics.

``We have received very strong oral and written reassurances about the fact that the Russian Federation will respect the Olympic Charter and that no negative effect will occur for people attending the games or participating in the Games. . .the International Olympic Committee cannot be expected to have an influence on sovereign affairs of a country,” Rogge said last week.

The 1996 Atlanta Olympic organizers moved volleyball preliminaries out of suburban Cobb County and had the torch relay bypass the county after it refused to repeal a resolution condemning what it called the gay lifestyle for being ''incompatible with the standards to which this community subscribes."

 

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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