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IOC issues statement on Olympics in Russia
by Matt Simonette

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The International Olympic Committee has released a statement to Windy City Times acknowledging the passage of anti-gay laws in Russia and calling for the acceptance of all athletes. The winter Olympic games are in Sochi, Russia in 2014, and there have been calls for a boycott of the event from some LGBT activists.

The IOC said that it will "work to ensure" that the Sochi Games take place without discrimination against LGBT participants.

But the statement from the Lausanne, Switzerland-based organization was short on specifics, only reiterating support for LGBT athletes and opposing any discrimination against them.

"The International Olympic Committee is clear that sport is a human right and should be available to all regardless of race, sex or sexual orientation," said the statement. "The Games themselves should be open to all, free of discrimination, and that applies to spectators, officials, media and of course athletes. We would oppose in the strongest terms any move that would jeopardise this principle.

"As you know, this legislation has just been passed into law and it remains to seen whether and how it will be implemented, particularly as regards the Games in Sochi. 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. Wider political issues in the country are best dealt with by other international organizations more suited to this endeavor."

Legislation prohibiting the dissemination of "propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations" in Russia passed in late June. Activists suggest that the law will give authorities a wide berth in interpreting what "propaganda" actually entails, and fear that even so much as a public declaration of being gay would be in violation of the law. Foreigners are subject to the rule as well; they can be fined, detained for 15 days and deported.

Some organizations had been urging IOC to come out more forcefully against the laws. In mid-June, after the legislation had passed the Duma, Boris O. Dittrich, advocacy director of the LGBT Rights Program at Human Rights Watch, asked IOC to "to press the authorities to state publicly that, as Olympic Host, Russia will ensure, without distinction, the safety and the freedom of expression and association of all athletes, coaches, fans, and others who will attend the Sochi Games."

Some participants, however, have said they will not be threatened by the rule. Blake Skjellerup, an out speed skater from New Zealand who also competed in the Vancouver games, has said he will take part, wearing a rainbow pin. "If that gets me in trouble," he told, "then, I guess, so be it."

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