Officials from the International Olympic Committee, who raised concern last month on how Russia’s "homosexual propaganda" laws would impact LGBT athletes and fans during the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, released a statement on Friday, saying they have received "assurances from the highest level" of Russian government that athletes and fans will not be subjected to the controversial measures, the state-owned news agency RIA Novosti reports.
"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," the IOC said in an emailed statement. "To that end, the IOC has received assurances from the highest level of government in Russia that the legislation will not affect those attending or taking part in the Games."
The organization’s officials added that "this legislation has just been passed into law, and it remains to be seen whether and how it will be implemented, particularly as regards the Games in Sochi."
The statement comes after the Internet erupted when LGBT activists and a number of gay bars around the world launched a boycott on Stoli Vodka in order to protest Russia’s "homosexual propaganda" law, which Russian President Vladimir Putin approved last month.
The measure subjects violators to substantial fines and jail time. The law also impacts tourists who can be detained if they break the law. The measure itself, however, has drawn criticism for its vague language; while activists say the measure is used to silence the LGBT community, Russian officials claim it’s to protect the country’s children. The law prohibits individuals, organizations and businesses from sharing materials about the LGBT community to minors.
NBC, which will be airing the Winter Games next year, responded to the IOC statement, BuzzFeed reports.
"NBCUniversal strongly supports equal rights and the fair treatment for all people," the statement reads. "The spirit of the Olympic Games is about unifying people and countries through the celebration of sport and it is our hope that spirit will prevail."
BuzzFeed also reports that the Human Rights Campaign were concerned over NBC’s coverage of the event and sent NBC a letter earlier this week with HRC president Chad Griffin writing, "NBCUniversal ... has a unique opportunity - and a responsibility - to expose this inhumane and unjust law to the millions of American viewers who will tune in to watch the Games."
While Dan Savage urged his readers to stop drinking Stoli Vodka and several popular gay bars in Chicago, San Francisco, Vancouver, and England also announced they dumped the brand, some are also calling for a boycott on the 2014 Games.
An Ohio woman created a petition on Change.org, asking Winter Olympics’ sponsors, like Coca Cola, Panasonic, Samsung, Procter & Gamble, Visa and more to "condemn Russia’s anti-gay laws, which are some of the most repressive laws in recent history, and pull their sponsorship from Russia’s Olympic games. Do these companies want to be tied to an Olympics where LGBT athletes and spectators are likely to face harsh violence, prison, and brutality?" Julianne Howell asks.
"It’s time for these companies to put their support for LGBT people first, and send a message to Russia that their anti-gay laws are not only contrary to basic human rights, but fly in the face of the spirit of the Olympic Games, which celebrate human dignity and community above all else," Howell concludes.
As of this writing, the petition has 55,142 signatures and needs nearly 20,000 more.
"Stand for human rights and pull sponsorship from the 2014 Winter Olympics! State sponsored homophobia should not be endorsed by your company. Tell Putin you do not support imprisoning and endangering the freedoms of gay athletes, fans, family, friends, and citizens!" the sample letter to the sponsors read.
Though a number of people have rallied around the boycott, out U.S. figure skater Johnny Weir recently wrote an Op-Ed piece for the Falls Church News-Press, and says that the boycott will hurt athletes who have "dedicated their lives to possibly having their lone life-changing moment."
"To have a boycott would not only negate the career of some athletes who have only one chance at competing at the Games, but also the over-time shifts an exhausted father takes to make ends meet, or the social acclimatization of a brother who can’t go on spring break because his brother needed another costume, or the mother who works part-time at a job far beneath her, just so she can afford to watch her first born perform for the world," Weir writes. "The Olympics are not a political statement, they are a place to let the world shine in peace and let them marvel at their youthful talents."
Weir does say, however, that Russia’s treatment towards the LGBT community is "a travesty of international proportions," he says he will compete in the 2014 Olympics if he qualifies.
"There isn’t a police officer or a government that, should I qualify, could keep me from competing at the Olympics," he wrote. "I respect the LGBT community full heartedly, but I implore the world not to boycott the Olympic Games because of Russia’s stance on LGBT rights or lack thereof. I beg the gay athletes not to forget their missions and fight for a chance to dazzle the world."
Out speed skater Blake Skjellerup backed up Weir and said he promised to wear a rainbow pin to the Games, according to Daily Xtra.
"If that gets me in trouble, then so be it," Skjellerup said. "The Olympics are all about diversity and a celebration of humanity, and sexuality is included in that, so I will not be hiding that ... Russia will be very focused on putting on a very good show and painting Russia in a positive light."
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