MOSCOW (AFP) – Russia on Friday said it was unperturbed by threats of an Olympic boycott over a controversial law banning “homosexual propoganda”, despite wide-ranging criticism of the legislation from athletes to U.S. President Barack Obama.
President Vladimir Putin passed the law in June as part of a wider political crackdown but it has cast a shadow over the build-up to the world athletics championships which start in Moscow this weekend and next year’s Winter Olympics in Sochi over claims it infringes fundamental rights.
The country’s sports minister Vitaly Mutko on Thursday stoked the issue further by saying athletes, activists and the international community should “calm down”.
But he said on Friday that the clamour for athletes to stay away was only “light pressure”, adding: “We should not be afraid of an Olympic Games boycott.
“Russia must understand that it is stronger, no matter how much someone may dislike this fact,” he was quoted as saying by the Interfax news agency.
“As for that law, it is not aimed at restricting the rights of citizens, irrespective of their nationality, faith or any other inclinations.
“This law is aimed at banning propaganda for minors. No-one is going to infringe on anyone’s rights.”
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) meanwhile reaffirmed its commitment to a discrimination-free Olympics in the Black Sea resort next February.
But it said it was unable to make a decision about measures to take because of a lack of clarity about the law, which punishes the dissemination of information about homosexuality to minors but which activists say can be used for a broad crackdown against gays.
IOC president Jacques Rogge told a news conference in Moscow, where the athletics world championships begin on Saturday, that without the full details he could not comment on the law.
Yet he made it clear that the rules within the Olympic Charter had to be respected.
“We have to abide by the Olympic charter, the charter is very clear,” said the 71-year-old Belgian, who steps down from his post in September.
“Sport is a human right and should be available to all regardless of race, sex, sexual orientation.”
Assurances had been received from organisers of the Sochi Games but the IOC was seeking clarity over the legislation, he added.
“It is more a translation issue not about fundamentals,” he said.
“We would treat every case independently,” he added.