MOSCOW, August 1 (R-Sport) - Russian Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko warned Thursday that athletes and visitors to the Sochi Olympics will be subject to the country's laws against promoting homosexuality, contradicting a statement from the International Olympic Committee that the government had promised they would be exempt.
The IOC told R-Sport on Friday it "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," which start February 7.
But in the first reaction from the government since the IOC made the claim, Mutko appeared to set the record straight.
"No one is forbidding an athlete with non-traditional sexual orientation from coming to Sochi, but if he goes onto the street and starts propagandizing it, then of course he will be held accountable," Mutko told R-Sport.
The legislation, signed into law by President Vladimir Putin in June, levies fines for such offenses from 800,000 rubles ($24,000) to 1 million rubles ($30,500) for legal entities, from 4,000 rubles ($120) to 5,000 rubles ($150) for individuals and from 40,000 rubles ($1,220) to 50,000 rubles ($1,530) for officials.
Legal entities may also be suspended for 90 days for the promotion of “non-traditional sexual relations” toward children.
In its statement the IOC noted 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.”
While the law’s proponents argue it is aimed at protecting children from harmful influences, critics allege the move is part of a broader crackdown on Russia’s gay community.
Russia has come under international criticism, including from the European Court of Human Rights, for its treatment of gay people.
Some gay bars in North America have reportedly refused to stock Russian vodka as a sign of protest at the law, and the legislation has attracted calls from activists around the world to boycott Russia’s first Winter Olympics.
In one protest in the United States on Wednesday, dozens of gay-rights advocates dumped bottles of vodka outside the Russian consulate in New York.
The protesters also called for the corporate sponsors of the Sochi Games, including Coca-Cola, Visa, McDonald’s, Procter & Gamble, and Samsung to pull their backing.