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22 Aug, 2013 19:31

Russia gives IOC ‘strong written reassurance’ of non-discrimination at Olympics

Russia gives IOC ‘strong written reassurance’ of non-discrimination at Olympics

The IOC says it has received a letter from the Russian government reassuring it that the LGBT community will not be given different treatment to anyone else at the forthcoming Sochi Olympics of 2014.

The letter, sent by Russian Deputy Minister Dmitry Kozak, reassured the IOC that the country will uphold the Olympic Charter’s provision against discrimination of any kind.  

International fears have been sparked in the wake of Russia passing the recent ‘gay propaganda to minors’ law, which provoked strong criticism, with many calling for a boycott of the games. US and British leaders, Barack Obama and David Cameron, have since spoken against such a step.

"The Russian Federation guarantees the fulfillment of its obligations before the International Olympic Committee in its entirety," Kozak’s letter said.

It also added that there is no law in existence in Russia that prohibits homosexuality and also, that everyone is equal in the eyes of the law. Therefore, the new legislation does not place any boundaries on the lives and the participation of athletes or on the spectators of the games, and does not contradict any law outlined either in the Olympic Charter or the international standards on human rights.

"We have today received strong written reassurances from the Russian government that everyone will be welcome at the games in Sochi regardless of their sexual orientation," IOC President Jacques Rogge told Reuters on Thursday.

Earlier in August, the IOC asked Russia to clarify its stance on the law, signed by President Vladimir Putin at the end of June. 

While Russia has given a clear response, the question of the legal treatment of athletes and the public, should they choose to make any statements or actions that may be attributed to promoting a gay lifestyle, remains open. 

However, political gestures of any kind are also prohibited by the IOC.

Yelena Isinbayeva (Russia) after her win in the women's pole vault final at the World Championships in Athletics in Moscow. (RIA Novosti/ Alexey Filippov)

Just last week a Swedish high jumper, Emma Green Tregaro, made such a gesture by painting her fingers in the colors of the rainbow to show her support for the gay community. This was not well-received with Russian pole vault star, Yelena Isinbayeva, who complained that the act was disrespectful of Russia’s laws. This led to a backlash from some other Olympic athletes, who called Isinbayeva a homophobe. 

However, Swedish officials told Green Tregaro that her rainbow nails gesture could be a violation of the competition’s regulations. 

Anders Albertsson, general secretary of the Swedish athletics federation, said the organization spoke to the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) about the issue, which said that Green Tregaro’s action was “by definition” a “breach of the regulations.”

“The code of conduct clearly states the rules do not allow any commercial or political statements during the competition,” he told journalists before the high jump finals, as quoted by AFP. 

Homosexuality has been legal in Russia since 1993 – something that the country hopes to remind the international community about. However, critics of the new law say that the boundaries of what ‘propaganda’ means in the case of non-traditional relationships are still not defined enough to allay the fears of wrongful prosecution taking place.

Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Kozak (RIA Novosti/Viktor Klushkin)