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Dispatches: Not So Much Reassurance from Russia
August 22, 2013

Confused, or profoundly cynical? Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitri Kozak must be one or the other, judging by the assuranceshe issued not to discriminate against gay athletes at the Winter Olympics in Sochi, even as he defendedthe law that does just that.

The International Olympic Committee has again received “strong assurances” from Russia that there will be no discrimination against LGBT people at the Sochi Games. According to the AP, Kozak, who is overseeing the preparations for the games, said, “Russia has committed itself to comply strictly with the provisions of the Olympic Charter and its fundamental principles,” which include a rejection of discrimination of any kind.

Yet the AP has quoted Kozak as defending the controversial law, adopted in June 2013. The law bans the distribution among minors of any information about "nontraditional" relationships (widely understood to mean LGBT relationships) that in any way “promotes” them or provides a “distorted notion of [their] social equivalence with … traditional relationships.”

In other words, you can talk about LGBT relationships, but only if you present them in a negative way. The law asserts that this is to “protect” children from “harm.” According to the AP, Kozak also said that since the law applies equally to everyone, it “cannot be regarded as discrimination based on sexual orientation.”

The law is premised on the notion that it is not all right to be gay. It says that it is not all right to tell children that it’s all right to be gay. So how is that not discriminatory? Gay fans and athletes are welcome to come to Sochi, but they have to obey the law. What exactly is Kozak assuring?

Let’s be frank – this isn’t just about desisting from marching in a gay pride parade or about being loud and out there. Obeying the law also means not talking about who you are around minors, unless of course you tell them being gay is bad. How is that not degrading and discriminatory against all LGBT people, including athletes, coaches, and their fans? How is it not discriminatory if gay and straight people alike can only say bad things about homosexuality?

I hope the IOC will stop trying to get assurances from the Russian government, because it is an exercise in useless obfuscation. The IOC should tell the Russian government this law needs to be repealed. Last week the IOC wrote to Human Rights Watch that “the IOC cannot influence national legislation and has to respect the law of any host country.” In a July letter, the IOC said that “there are other international organizations that are better suited for such a discussion.”

On the contrary, there is no organization better suited, bearing more responsibility, to tell the Russian government that this discriminatory, degrading law undermines the integrity of the Games because it violates the Olympic Charter’s guarantees of nondiscrimination and human dignity.