American middle-distance runner Nick Symmonds appears to be the first Olympic athlete to publicly challenge Russia’s controversial ban against gay “propaganda” while inside the country, Russian media reported.
Symmonds dedicated a silver medal he won in the 800-meter race during the World Championships in Athletics in Moscow to his gay and lesbian friends at home, according to the state news agency RIA Novosti.
“As much as I can speak out about it, I believe that all humans deserve equality as however God made them,” the agency reported him as saying at Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium on Tuesday. “Whether you’re gay, straight, black, white, we all deserve the same rights. If there’s anything I can do to champion the cause and further it, I will, shy of getting arrested.”
The vaguely worded law, which went into force in June and purports to protect minors from information that equates “nontraditional sexual relationships” with traditional ones, has come under fire from officials and activists worldwide and prompted calls for western countries to boycott the Olympic winter games in the Russian Black Sea resort Sochi next February.
Foreigners found in violation of the law could face fines of up to $3,000, 15-day arrests and deportation.
The International Olympics Committee (IOC) on Monday repeated its call for Russia to assure that human rights are respected during the games.
The same day, the Russian Interior Ministry said in a statement that the authorities would comply as long as athletes and other participants refrain from “provocations,” RIA Novosti reported.
Sports Minister Vitali Mutko first issued that warning earlier this month.
“An athlete of nontraditional sexual orientation isn’t banned from coming to Sochi,” he told state news agency RIA Novosti. “But if he goes out into the streets and starts to propagandize, then of course he will be held accountable.”
The IOC has asked Moscow to provide written explanations about exactly how the law would be applied as other signs have emerged indicating the organization is growing increasingly wary of the law’s scope.
An IOC spokesman reportedly told Gay Star News on Monday that the Olympic body would punish athletes on its own for making “political” statements that could cause a stir in Russia.
The spokesman, who was not identified, pointed to a rule in the IOC’s charter that bans “demonstration or political, religious or racial propaganda.”
Blake Skjellerup, an openly gay speed skater from New Zealand, announced last month that he would wear a rainbow pin to the Sochi games in an ostensible violation of the law.
For his part, Symmonds first expressed his opposition to the law in a blog post to Runner’s World last week, where he also said he would refrain from criticizing it in order not to “lecture the Russian government on how to govern their people.”
But the Olympic runner appeared to break that promise on Tuesday, saying: “I disagree with their laws. I do have respect for this nation. I disagree with their rules.”