We’ve had mixed signals from the Russian government about how their new anti-gay “propaganda” law will operate when they host the Olympics last year. The latest is the government’s sports minister saying that they will enforce the law on athletes, despite earlier assurances to the IOC that they won’t:
Russia will enforce a new law cracking down on gay rights activism when it hosts international athletes and fans during the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, the country’s sports minister said Thursday, appearing to contradict assurances to the contrary from the International Olympic Committee…
“An athlete of nontraditional sexual orientation isn’t banned from coming to Sochi,” Vitaly Mutko said in an interview with R-Sport, the sports newswire of state news agency RIA Novosti. “But if he goes out into the streets and starts to propagandize, then of course he will be held accountable.”
Mutko emphasized that the law wasn’t designed to punish anyone for being gay or lesbian. But like the Russian lawmakers who authored the bill, Mutko said athletes would be punished only for propaganda, a word that remains ambiguous under the new law.
“The corresponding law doesn’t forbid non-traditional orientation, but other things: propaganda, involvement of minors and young people.”
The law specifies punishment for foreign citizens, to include fines of up to 100,000 rubles ($3,000 US), time in prison for up to 15 days, deportation and denial of reentry into Russia. Four Dutch citizens working on a documentary film about gay rights in the northern Russian town of Murmansk were the first foreigners to be detained under the new law, although their case did not make it to court, according to RIA Novosti.
If this is true, I think an ugly incident is almost inevitable. Someone at the Olympics, likely an athlete or coach, is almost certainly going to use the opportunity to take a stand for human rights and equality. It may be something as subtle as taking out a small rainbow flag on the medal stand or it may be speaking out to the media. But someone is going to do it, as they should. And then Russia has a choice to make. Do they spark an ugly international incident and make an arrest? They must know that doing so will only make them look terrible. But they may decide that their internal politics matters more.
And for those signing petitions to pull the Olympics from Russia over this, stop kidding yourselves. There is no way in hell that’s going to happen. The Olympics were held in Nazi Germany, for crying out loud. And it’s only six months away. It simply is not going to happen. But I think a showdown over this during that event may very well happen.