Athletes participating in the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics and foreign visitors attending the Games will not be targeted by Russia’s restrictive anti-gay propaganda law, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) said on Friday, but admitted that “it remains to be seen whether and how it will be implemented.”
The measure, signed by President Vladimir Putin in June, bans so-called “homosexual propaganda” at public events and the dissemination of materials to young people.
Individuals can be fined up to 5,000 rubles ($156) for spreading information aimed at minors “directed at forming nontraditional sexual setup” or creating a “distorted understanding” that homosexual and heterosexual relations are “socially equivalent.” The fines increase significantly — 200,000 rubles ($6,250) — for individuals who post the information on the internet or in the media, while organizations can be fined “up to one million rubles ($31,000) and a shutdown of their activity for 90 days.” Foreigners charged under the law can be deported.
Last month, LGBT groups in St. Petersburg sought to defy the law by staging a gay pride parade, but the effort was met with swift arrests and violence from Russian nationalists. About 200 counter protesters held signs reading “Sodomy will not pass” and threw “eggs and rocks” at the activists. Police arrested dozens of people, but purportedly stood by while the anti-gay counter protesters struck and beat gay people. More recently, Russian officials fined and deported four Dutch tourists filming a documentary about the anti-gay propaganda law, banning them from Russia for three years.
Despite assurances from Russia and the IOC that the law will not affect “those attending or taking part in the Games,” gay Olympic athletes and foreign spectators will almost certainly face homophobia and anti-gay hostility in Sochi. While the country does not track instances of anti-gay crime, activists report that “violence against gays has risen sharply” and a recent internet survey found that “15 percent of about 900 LGBT people surveyed in Russia said they had been physically attacked at least once in the previous 10 month.”
A poll conducted by independent Levada Centre in April showed that just “39 percent of Russians believe that gays and lesbians should have the same rights as heterosexuals,” a drop from 2005, when 51 percent of respondents agreed with the sentiment. Forty-five percent of Russians told pollsters that people become gay “because of seduction or of their own licentiousness.” Russia decriminalized homosexual behavior in 1993, shortly after the fall of the Soviet Union, but classified homosexuality as a mental illness until 1999.
NBC Universal, which will be airing the Olympics, issued a statement to BuzzFeed: “NBCUniversal strongly supports equal rights and the fair treatment for all people. The spirit of the Olympic Games is about unifying people and countries through the celebration of sport and it is our hope that spirit will prevail.”