MOSCOW — The International Olympic Committee is waiting for the Russian government to clarify the anti-gay law that is overshadowing preparations for the Sochi Games.
The law, signed by President Vladimir Putin in June, bans “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations” and imposes fines on those holding gay pride rallies. It has caused an international outcry and spawned calls for protests leading to the Feb. 7-23 Winter Olympics in the Black Sea resort.
IOC President Jacques Rogge said Friday the Russian government provided written assurances about the law Thursday but some elements remain unclear.
“We are waiting for the clarifications before having the final judgment on these reassurances,” Rogge said, a day before the start of the track and field world championships in Moscow.In Washington, President Barack Obama said it would be wrong to boycott the Winter Olympics despite frustrations with Russia.
At a White House news conference Friday, Obama said he is offended by Russia’s new law. He added that American athletes are training hard and it wouldn’t be fair to deny them the chance to compete at the games.
NBC, meanwhile, is assuring its gay and lesbian employees who may cover the Olympics that it will do everything possible to keep them safe.
The network said it finds the Russian law “deeply troubling and diametrically opposed to everything that the Olympics symbolize.” The memo by Craig Robinson, NBC Universal’s executive vice president and chief diversity officer, was sent Thursday to all company employees identifying themselves as gay or lesbian.
Russian Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko insisted Thursday that Olympic athletes would have to respect the laws of the country during the Sochi Games. On Friday, he said there was no way Russia would yield to political pressure.
Referring to Western criticism, Mutko was quoted as saying by Interfax: “I wouldn’t call the pressure light. Russia must understand that the stronger we are, the more other people aren’t going to like it. We have a unique country.”
“We don’t have to be afraid of threats to boycott the Olympic Games,” Mutko said. “All sensible people understand that sports demand independence, that it is inadmissible that politics intervene.”
On Thursday, Mutko did make it clear that the private lives and privacy of athletes would be respected as it is guaranteed by the Russian constitution
Rogge said that was essential.
“The Olympic charter is clear,” he said. “A sport is a human right and it should be available to all, regardless of race, sex or sexual orientation.”
Even if Russia accepts that principle, the law leaves open the issue of athletes speaking freely during the games.
“As far as the freedom of expression is concerned, of course, this is something that is important,” Rogge said. “But we cannot make a comment on the law” until the clarifications have been received.
The All Out advocacy group said it was happy with Rogge’s comments.
“This is the strongest and most direct statement we have received from the International Olympic Committee. It shows the IOC is listening to the global outcry,” All Out executive director Andre Banks said.
Still, Rogge pleaded for time to study the Russian reassurances some more.
“I understand your impatience to get the full picture, but we haven’t (received) it today,” Rogge said. “There are still too many uncertainties in the text.”
Rogge, speaking at a news conference following a meeting of the IOC executive board with track and field’s governing body, said the problems seemed to center on translations.
“We don’t think it is a fundamental issue,” he said.
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