(WASHINGTON) — In an abrupt about face, Russia said Friday that athletes and guests attending next year’s Winter Olympics will not be subject to the country’s stringent new anti-gay law.
“The Olympic Games is a major international event. We need to be as polite and tolerant as possible. That is why a decision has been made not to raise this issue during the Olympics,” Igor Ananskikh, deputy chairman of the State Duma’s Physical Culture, Sport and Youth Policy Committee, told Interfax.
“Russia plans to host large international competitions in the future. The atmosphere at them must be as safe and polite as possible,” he added.
His comments came just a day after Russia’s sports minister warned that athletes and spectators would be accountable under the law.
The so-called gay “propaganda” law technically bans discussion and displays of “non-traditional” relationships around minors, but the implication is more clear. Under the law, it is illegal to even talk about homosexuality around minors or display gay pride symbols like a rainbow flag.
Violators face steep fines and jail time. Foreigners face similar penalties plus deportation.
The change of policy came amid international uproar over the law, especially after the sports minister’s comments on Thursday.
It fueled calls from activists in the United States to boycott of Russian products, including vodka. Others called for a boycott of the games themselves.
Anti-gay sentiment runs high in Russia, where homosexuality was illegal during the Soviet Union and only decriminalized in 1993. A law that sent homosexuals to psychiatric wards wasn’t annulled until 1999. Petitions for gay pride parades in Moscow have been rejected and unsanctioned rallies are often met by egg-throwing Russian Orthodox believers as well as physical violence. Police are often seen ignoring the attacks and detaining the gay rights activists.
In recent months, a new trend of attacks has gained popularity on Russian social media. Groups lure gay men online into meeting them in person, then humiliate and attack them on camera. They post the images and videos online under a hashtag that translates as “Occupy Pedophilia.”
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