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Russian government says anti-gay laws aren't anti-gay

The International Olympic Committee bought Russian spin on its anti-gay law because a chilling effect on political gestures is perfectly in line with what the IOC is all about.

Harold Cunningham

Jacques Rogge, the president of the International Olympic Committee, asked the Russian government to clarify how the nation's new law against what it dubs "homosexual propaganda" would affect the Sochi Games amid fears that gay and lesbian athletes or fans would be sanctioned for, you know, existing. In response, Russia's deputy prime minister claimed the Games would not violate the IOC's anti-discrimination provisions. Well, that's a relief.

Do go on, deputy prime minister Dmitry Kozak.

In his letter, Kozak said the legislation does not impose any restrictions on sexual orientation, and stressed the Russian constitution prohibits discrimination against anyone based on sex, race or religion.

The law on gay propaganda, he said, centers on the "restriction of information that promotes non-traditional sexual relationships among children."

"These legislations apply equally to all persons, irrespective of their race, religion, gender, or sexual orientation, and cannot be regarded as discrimination based on sexual orientation," he said.

So the law that threatens prison time on anyone (Russian or visitor) who provides information on how being gay is not weird, immoral or evil is not discriminatory in nature because straight people -- not just gays and lesbians -- can be punished under its provisions too. That is some fantastic spin.

So fantastic that the IOC bought it. A subsequent statement from the committee:

The International Olympic Committee has today received strong written reassurances from the Russian government that everyone will be welcome at the Games in Sochi regardless of their sexual orientation. [...] The IOC is clear that sport is a human right and should be available to all regardless of race, sex or sexual orientation. 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.

So because Russia is guaranteeing that homosexual athletes and fans won't be arrested due to their mere gayness, IOC is cool with it. Never mind that there is nothing but gray area on what constitutes, in the Russian authories' eyes, homosexual propaganda. Never mind that there is no assurance from the deputy prime minister -- in fact, there's an assurance to the contrary -- that athletes' speech will be free of sanction.

But that's the Olympic way, isn't it? The IOC itself prohibits political gestures from athletes. Don't forget that John Carlos, Tommie Smith and Peter Norman were ejected from the 1968 Games for their gestures. It's the greatest "stick to sports" demand in the world: the biggest amateur athletic spectacle on the planet, and the competitors are restricted from sharing their opinions on the most pressing issues of the world during the competition.

The IOC is all about keeping still the apple cart, for the sake of comfort among the political leaders of participating nations and, of course, the sponsors who finance the whole thing. The IOC's "stick to sports" stance itself limits free speech among participants. So really, it's little surprise that Rogge and company would be on board with Russia's crackdown on propaganda once Russian officials assured the IOC gay athletes wouldn't be rounded up and jailed. A chilling effect on political gestures -- the most immediate repercussion of Russia's law -- is right up the IOC's alley.

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