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Dispatches: Every Color Flag But Rainbow at Sochi Olympics
August 1, 2013

Russia is prepared to open its arms to athletes from around the world to compete in the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics – as long as they leave their rainbow flags at home.

If there were any doubt about how the country’s new “gay propaganda” law would affect athletes and others attending in February, Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko made clear the government’s true position today. Visitors will be accountable under the restrictions banning any positive information and communication to children about “nontraditional sexual relationships.”

What Mutko’s comment means is that no one can go to Sochi and wear a rainbow flag or otherwise openly support gay rights. If an athlete, fan, coach, journalist or anyone else dares to do so, they risk fines, detention, and deportation. That’s quite an Olympic welcome mat.

The minister’s statement comes just a few days after the International Olympic Committee (IOC) announced that it had obtained “assurances from the highest level of government in Russia” that Olympians and visitors from outside Russia would be exempt from this regressive and discriminatory law during the games.

This is a showdown the IOC had thought it could avoid. The IOC has been reluctant to criticize Russia over its human rights record in its preparations for the games but has found itself under increasing pressure to respond, especially after Russian president Vladimir Putin signed the homophobic law on June 29. It appears that the IOC tried to skirt controversy through negotiations with the Russian authorities to carve out a “discrimination-free” zone in Sochi for Olympians and their fans.

Such half-measures by the IOC not only underscore how perverse and unjust this law is, but also clearly showcase the dangers of holding the Olympic Games in states which openly defy basic human rights norms and their commitments under the Olympic Charter, which deems any form of discrimination “incompatible with belonging to the Olympic Movement.”

Instead of listening to Russia’s hollow assurances, IOC President Jacques Rogge should stand up for the Olympic charter’s commitment to promoting human dignity and insist that the Russian government immediately takes steps to repeal the law and, in the meantime, refrains from implementing it.