News / Europe

Russia's Anti-Gay Law Tests Olympic Tenets

Gold medallists from team Russia kiss celebrating their victory at the women's 4x400 meters relay during the World Athletics Championships in Moscow August 17, 2013.Gold medallists from team Russia kiss celebrating their victory at the women's 4x400 meters relay during the World Athletics Championships in Moscow August 17, 2013.
x
Gold medallists from team Russia kiss celebrating their victory at the women's 4x400 meters relay during the World Athletics Championships in Moscow August 17, 2013.
Gold medallists from team Russia kiss celebrating their victory at the women's 4x400 meters relay during the World Athletics Championships in Moscow August 17, 2013.
David Byrd
The Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia, are less than six month months away.  But a controversy over a Russian law that bans propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations could cast a shadow over the competition and negatively impact the Olympic movement.
 
The text of the Olympic charter is rather straightforward.  Article 4 reads:
 
"The practice of sport is a human right.  Every individual must have the possibility of practicing sport, without discrimination of any kind and in the Olympic spirit, which requires mutual understanding with a spirit of friendship, solidarity and fair play."
 
The charter later says that any form of discrimination “is incompatible with belonging to the Olympic Movement.”
 
In addition, the European Convention on Human Rights states that “everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence.”  It also guarantees freedom of expression and freedom of assembly.
 
When former fencing gold medalist Thomas Bach was elected International Olympic Committee president this week, he pledged to represent all those in the Olympic movement.
 
“I want to lead the IOC according to my motto, ‘Unity in Diversity.’ I want to be a president for all of you. This means I will do my very best to balance well all the different interests of the stakeholders of the Olympic movement,” said the new IOC president.
 
However, Bach could find himself caught between the IOC charter, the European Convention on Human Rights, and Russian law.
 
In June, the Russian Duma passed, and President Vladimir Putin signed, a law that bans the “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations to minors.” The bill defines “nontraditional” as “relations not conducive to procreation.”
 
The law bans distribution of information among minors aimed at “creating nontraditional sexual attitudes,” or such that “makes nontraditional sexual relations attractive.”  It also bars communication that “equates the social value of traditional and nontraditional sexual relations” or that “creates an interest in nontraditional sexual relations.”
 
Violating the law carries fines and the threat of imprisonment for up to 15 days.  Individual Russian citizens can be fined up to $1,500, organizations – up to $30,000 for infractions.  If the “propaganda” is in the media or on the Internet, the fines are even higher.  Foreign citizens face similar penalties, plus a possible detention and deportation.
 
Barrage of criticism
 
The law has faced widespread criticism.
 
U.S. President Barrack Obama said he was “offended” by the legislation.  However, the president said he did not believe that U.S. athletes should boycott the Sochi Games.

Several human rights organizations - including Human Rights Watch and the Human Rights Campaign - have called on the IOC to speak out against the law before the Sochi Games.  Minky Worden, director of Global Initiatives at Human Rights Watch, says the IOC missed its chance to speak up for human rights when Sochi was awarded the Games.
 
“These are [Russian President Vladimir] Putin’s Olympics.  It’s very important to him and to the Russian government.  And if there had been adequate communication that there was a major problem with this anti-gay law, I think we wouldn’t be in this mess right now,” said Worden.
 
Because the Russian law is vague on what constitutes “propaganda,” there is confusion about what behavior is acceptable by both athletes and spectators.  IOC Communications director Mark Adams said that the governing body received assurances from the Russian government that spectators or athletes would not be targeted. 
 
“We have from the deputy prime minister and more recently from the prime minister - from the president - an absolute undertaking that the law will not affect spectators, athletes or anyone else attending the Games.  Now, how that works in practice, that’s something for the Russian authorities to work out.  But we have an absolute undertaking from them that the Olympic charter will be respected,” said Adams.
 
‘Fundamental failure’

However, Adams said any protest by athletes or spectators within Olympic sites would be a violation of Olympic rules.  Minky Worden of Human Rights Watch says the IOC’s response does not address the fundamental issue.

“For the IOC to say after the fact that they are not going to punish athletes who speak outside of the Olympics is really failing to address the fundamental question of how did this law get passed in the first place?  The answer is it was a fundamental failure to communicate with the Russian government that discrimination is not allowed in the Olympic charter and the government needs to repeal the law,” said Worden.
 
Several organizations have called for a boycott of the Games.  Short of that, gay rights organizations have called on sponsors - many of them based in the United States - to withdraw support.
 
Ross Murray is the director of news at GLAAD, a leading U.S.-based gay rights organization.  He says the sponsors - including Visa, NBC, Coca-Cola and others - need to show that their human rights policies apply worldwide, not just inside U.S. borders.
 
“I think that there is going to be a lot of pressure on to those sponsors to demonstrate how LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) friendly they are in the United States - do those same things play out in other countries,” said Murray.
 
World is watching’

Nina Long is a co-president of RUSA LGBT, a U.S.-based group of Russian expatriates that opposes the new law.  She says any controversy at the Games could embarrass the Russian government, something she says Games organizers very much want to avoid.
 
“You know, the world is watching.  And they (the Russian government) have this law that they very much defend. And then the people who come - foreigners - some would break that law.  But it’s going to be an international scandal if they try to arrest them.  So the Russian government has put themselves in a very, very difficult and awkward situation, and we wish that they would repeal the law because that’s the easiest way to get out of it,” said Long.
 
The IOC Charter says that the goal of the Olympic movement is to “place sport at the service of the harmonious development of humankind.”  It also says that belonging to the Olympic movement requires compliance with that charter.
 
However, the IOC is not expected to apply much pressure for Russia to change its law.

You May Like

Video On The Scene: In Ethiopia, 'Are You a Journalist?' Is a Loaded Question

VOA's Anita Powell describes the difficulties faced by reporters in fully conveying the story in a country where people are reticent to share their true opinions More

Nigerians Await New President With High Hopes

When pomp and circumstance of inauguration end in Abuja, Buhari will sit down to the hard task of governing Nigeria More

India's Restrictions on Several NGOs Raise Concerns

Political analysts link recent clampdown on advocacy groups to report last year that said foreign-funded NGO’s negatively impact economic development More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Mary Waterton from: USA
September 15, 2013 10:23 AM
I see the homosexual-saturated news media is still circulating the picture of Kseniya Ryzhova and Tatyana Firova with the lie attached that this was a "lesbian kiss" done in protest when, in fact, they have repeatedly stated that it was none of the above. But what does the TRUTH matter to liberal activist news journalists.
In Response

by: Rontourage from: usa
September 16, 2013 2:18 AM
And what does GRAMMAR matter to conservatives who leave comments?

by: MARIA from: PHILIPPINES
September 13, 2013 6:06 PM
olympics are sacred in the sense that we use our God given talent and strenght to all and that something out of creation is not appropriate.putin may be harsh but he is right in that belief.syrias problem should take center stage.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Expelled from Pakistan, Afghan Refugees Return to Increased Hardshipi
X
Ayesha Tanzeem
May 28, 2015 6:48 PM
Undocumented refugees returning to Afghanistan from Pakistan have no jobs, no support system, and no home return to, and international aid agencies say they and the government are overwhelmed and under-resourced. Ayesha Tanzeem has more from Kabul.
Video

Video Expelled from Pakistan, Afghan Refugees Return to Increased Hardship

Undocumented refugees returning to Afghanistan from Pakistan have no jobs, no support system, and no home return to, and international aid agencies say they and the government are overwhelmed and under-resourced. Ayesha Tanzeem has more from Kabul.
Video

Video Britain Makes Controversial Move to Crack Down on Extremism

Britain is moving to tighten controls on extremist rhetoric, even when it does not incite violence or hatred -- a move that some are concerned might unduly restrict basic freedoms. It is an issue many countries are grappling with as extremist groups gain power in the Middle East, fueled in part by donations and fighters from the West. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video Floodwaters Recede in Houston, but Rain Continues

Many parts of Texas are recovering from one of the worst natural disasters to hit the southwestern state. Heavy rains on Monday and early Tuesday caused rivers to swell in eastern and central Texas, washing away homes and killing at least 13 people. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, floodwaters are receding slowly in the country's fourth-largest city, and there likely is to be more rain in the coming days.
Video

Video 3D Printer Makes Replica of Iconic Sports Car

Cars with parts made by 3D printers are already on the road, but engineers are still learning about this new technology. While testing the possibility of printing an entire car, researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy recently created an electric-powered replica of an iconic sports roadster. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Al-Shabab Recruitment Drive Still on In Kenya

The al-Shabab militants that have long battled for control of Somalia also have recruited thousands of young people in Kenya, leaving many families disconsolate. Mohammed Yusuf recently visited the Kenyan town of Isiolo, and met with relatives of those recruited, as well as a many who have helped with the recruiting.
Video

Video US Voters Seek Answers From Presidential Candidates on IS Gains

The growth of the Islamic State militant group in Iraq and Syria comes as the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign kicks off in the Midwest state of Iowa.   As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, voters want to know how the candidates would handle recent militant gains in the Middle East.
Video

Video A Small Oasis on Kabul's Outskirts Provides Relief From Security Tensions

When people in Kabul want to get away from the city and relax, many choose Qargha Lake, a small resort on the outskirts of Kabul. Ayesha Tanzeem visited and talked with people about the precious oasis.
Video

Video Film Festival Looks at Indigenous Peoples, Culture Conflict

A recent Los Angeles film festival highlighted the plight of people caught between two cultures. Mike O'Sullivan has more on the the Garifuna International Film Festival, a Los Angeles forum created by a woman from Central America who wants the world to know more about her culture.
Video

Video Kenyans Lament Losing Sons to al-Shabab

There is agony, fear and lost hope in the Kenyan town of Isiolo, a key target of a new al-Shabab recruitment drive. VOA's Mohammed Yusuf visits Isiolo to speak with families and at least one man who says he was a recruiter.
Video

Video Scientists Say Plankton More Important Than Previously Thought

Tiny ocean creatures called plankton are mostly thought of as food for whales and other large marine animals, but a four-year global study discovered, among other things, that plankton are a major source of oxygen on our planet. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Kenya’s Capital Sees Rise in Shisha Parlors

In Kenya, the smoking of shisha, a type of flavored tobacco, is the latest craze. Patrons are flocking to shisha parlors to smoke and socialize. But the practice can be addictive and harmful, though many dabblers may not realize the dangers, according to a new review. Lenny Ruvaga has more on the story for VOA from Nairobi, Kenya.
Video

Video Iowa Family's Sacrifice Shaped US Military Service for Generations

Few places in America have experienced war like Waterloo. This small town in the Midwest state of Iowa became famous during World War II not for what it accomplished, but what it lost. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the legacy of one family’s sacrifice is still a reminder today of the real cost of war for all families on the homefront.

VOA Blogs