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

    Water Scarcity Could Push Conflict, Migration by 2050

    Warning comes in a new report from the World Bank titled "High and Dry: Climate Change, Water and the Economy"

    What Your First Name Says About Who You Support for President

    Bobby, Betty and Curtis tend to support Donald Trump while people named Juan, Liz or Mohammad are more likely to lean toward Hillary Clinton

    South Pole Diary: In Round-the-clock Darkness, Radiant Moon Shines Like the Sun

    You hear more and see more when the moon first comes out; it’s your senses in overdrive, tuning into a new world.

    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.
    Displaced By War, Syrian Artist Finds Inspiration Abroadi
    X
    May 02, 2016 1:36 PM
    Saudi-born Syrian painter Mohammad Zaza is among the millions who fled their home for an uncertain future after Syria's civil war broke out. Since fleeing Syria, Zaza has lived in Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan and now Turkey where his latest exhibition, “Earth is Blue like an Orange,” opened in Istanbul. He spoke with VOA about how being displaced by the Syrian civil war has affected the country's artists.
    Video

    Video Displaced By War, Syrian Artist Finds Inspiration Abroad

    Saudi-born Syrian painter Mohammad Zaza is among the millions who fled their home for an uncertain future after Syria's civil war broke out. Since fleeing Syria, Zaza has lived in Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan and now Turkey where his latest exhibition, “Earth is Blue like an Orange,” opened in Istanbul. He spoke with VOA about how being displaced by the Syrian civil war has affected the country's artists.
    Video

    Video Ethiopia’s Drought Takes Toll on Children

    Ethiopia is dealing with its worst drought in decades, thanks to El Nino weather patterns. An estimated 10 million people urgently need food aid. Six million of them are children, whose development may be compromised without sufficient help, Marthe van der Wolf reports for VOA from the Metahara district.
    Video

    Video Little Havana - a Slice of Cuban Culture in Florida

    Hispanic culture permeates everything in Miami’s Little Havana area: elderly men playing dominoes as they discuss politics, cigar rollers deep at work, or Cuban exiles talking with presidential candidates at a Cuban coffee window. With the recent rapprochement between Cuba and United States, one can only expect stronger ties between South Florida and Cuba.
    Video

    Video California Republicans Weigh Presidential Choices Amid Protests

    Republican presidential candidates have been wooing local party leaders in California, a state that could be decisive in selecting the party's nominee for U.S. president. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports delegates to the California party convention have been evaluating choices, while front-runner Donald Trump drew hundreds of raucous protesters Friday.
    Video

    Video Kurdish Football Team Helps War-Torn City Cope

    With the conflict still raging across much of Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast, between the rebel PKK and the Turkish state, many Kurds are trying to escape the turmoil by focusing on the success of their football team Amedspor in Diyarbakir. The club is increasingly becoming a symbol for Kurds, not only in Diyarbakir but beyond. Dorian Jones reports from southeast Turkey.
    Video

    Video ‘The Lights of Africa’ - Through the Eyes of 54 Artists

    An exhibition bringing together the work of 54 African artists, one from each country, is touring the continent after debuting at COP21 in Paris. Called "Lumières d'Afrique," the show centers on access to electricity and, more figuratively, ideas that enlighten. Emilie Iob reports from Abidjan, the exhibition's first stop.
    Video

    Video Pakistani School Helps Slum Kids

    Master Mohammad Ayub runs a makeshift school in a public park in Islamabad. Thousands of poor children have benefited from his services over the years, but, as VOA's Ayesha Tanzeem reports, roughly 25 million school-age youths don't get an education in Pakistan.
    Video

    Video Florida’s Weeki Wachee ‘Mermaids’ Make a Splash

    Since 1947, ‘mermaids’ have fascinated tourists at central Florida’s Weeki Wachee Springs State Park with their fluid movements and synchronized ballet. Performing underwater has its challenges, including cold temperatures and a steady current, as VOA’s Lin Yang and Joseph Mok report.
    Video

    Video Somali, African Union Forces Face Resurgent Al-Shabab

    The Islamic State terror group claimed its first attack in Somalia earlier this week, though the claim has not been verified by forces on the ground. Meanwhile, al-Shabab militants have stepped up their attacks as Somalia prepares for elections later this year. Henry Ridgwell reports there are growing frustrations among Somalia’s Western backers over the country’s slow progress in forming its own armed forces to establish security after 25 years of chaos.
    Video

    Video Documentary Tells Tale of Chernobyl Returnees

    Ukraine this week is marking the 30th anniversary of the world's worst nuclear accident, at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. Soviet officials at first said little about the accident, but later evacuated a 2,600-square-kilometer "exclusion zone." Some people, though, came back. American directors Holly Morris and Anne Bogart created a documentary about this faithful and brave community. VOA's Tetiana Kharchenko reports from New York on "The Babushkas of Chernobyl." Carol Pearson narrates.
    Video

    Video Nigerians Feel Bite of Buhari Economic Policy

    Despite the global drop in the price of oil, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari has refused to allow the country's currency to devalue, leading to a shortage of foreign exchange. Chris Stein reports from Lagos businessmen and consumers are feeling the impact as the country deals with a severe fuel shortage.
    Video

    Video  Return to the Wild

    There’s a growing trend in the United States to let old or underused golf courses revert back to nature. But as Erika Celeste reports from one parcel in Grafton, Ohio, converting 39 hectares of land back to green space is a lot more complicated than just not mowing the fairway.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora