LAUSANNE, Switzerland — The International Olympic Committee on Friday said it had received “assurances from the highest level” of the Russian government that athletes and spectators attending the the 2014 Winter Olympic games in Sochi are exempt from an anti-gay statue that outlaws “homosexual propaganda.”
The law, which was signed last month by Russian President Vladimir Putin, criminalizes public events that promote gay rights, as well as public displays of affection by same-sex couples, and has prompted calls for a boycott of the games by LGBT activists who warn it would be unsafe for gays to travel to Russia.
“As a sporting organization, what we can do is to continue to work to ensure that the Games can take place without discrimination against athletes, officials, spectators and the media,” the IOC said, in a statement. “To that end, the IOC has received assurances from the highest level of government in Russia that the legislation will not affect those attending or taking part in the Games.”
The committee said that the Olympic games should be “should be available to all regardless of race, sex or sexual orientation,” and that applies to spectators, officials, media and athletes.
“We would oppose in the strongest terms any move that would jeopardize this principle,” the committee said.
Russia has come under international criticism, including from the European Court of Human Rights, for its treatment of LGBT people.
LGBT foreigners, such as those visiting Russia for the Olympic games, could be fined, face arrest, or spend up to 15 days in jail, if found to be violating the anti-gay law.
Earlier this week, openly gay actor and playwright Harvey Fierstein wrote in The New York Times that the Russian president had “declared war on homosexuals” and that “the world has mostly been silent.”
Nina Long, co-president of RUSA LGBT, a Russian-speaking LGBT organization based in New York, said last month that “LGBT people in Russia are scared, they live in fear, and we want people to be aware of this issue. If they feel strongly about human rights they should boycott the Olympics in Sochi.”
But, three-time U.S. men’s figure skating champion Johnny Weir, who is openly gay and slated to compete in his second Olympics next year, disagrees with a boycott.
Weir, whose husband Victor Voronov is Russian, said, “The fact that Russia is arresting my people, and openly hating a minority and violating human rights all over the place is heartbreaking and a travesty of international proportions.”
Article continues below“I respect the LGBT community full heartedly, but I implore the world not to boycott the Olympic Games because of Russia’s stance on LGBT rights, or lack thereof,” he said, in a statement. “I beg the gay athletes not to forget their missions and fight for a chance to dazzle the world.”
“Olympics are history, and they do not represent their host, they represent the world entire,” said Weir.
The Human Rights Campaign said Friday that “mere verbal assurances from the Russian government that foreigners will be exempt from their repressive laws are not enough.”
“The IOC must obtain ironclad written assurance from President Putin,” said HRC President Chad Griffin. “But more importantly, they should be advocating for the safety of all LGBT people in Russia, not simply those visiting for the Olympics. Rescinding this heinous law must be our collective goal.”
The Russian government did not issue a statement on Friday related to the Olympic committee’s announcement.