Will Gay Athletes Be Arrested At 2014 Russia Olympics?

Over on Facebook, speculation gay athletes will be arrested in Sochi for the 2014 Olympics is causing a lot of share activity as well as significant outrage.

It’s true that gay athletes are walking into an uncertain and potentially dangerous situation thanks to sweeping anti-gay laws passed in Russia recently. Due to the recent diplomatic tensions as well as language barriers, it’s not immediately clear what the situation gay athletes arriving in Sochi will face, and this is understandably causing a bit of concern for Olympians from several countries in which it is perfectly legal to be openly homosexual.

One post that seems to be getting a lot of activity is titled, “Russia Interior Minister confirms Olympic athletes will be arrested at Sochi under anti-gay law,” which makes it sound like any openly gay or same-sex committed individuals will be scooped up and deposited in a gulag upon their arrival in Russia.

The post asserts:

“That means an Olympic athlete appearing in public with their same-sex spouse will be arrested. It also means that an NBC reporter interviewing any athlete who does or says anything perceived as pro-gay – for example, mentioning their same-sex spouse or appearing in their home with that spouse – will be jailed.”

The post links back to a news story, which is indeed saying somewhat the same thing — but the admittedly unlike US laws stance does not sound even in the linked post to be nearly as aggressive as people are interpreting it to be. (The International Olympic Committee has even been accused of being complicit in creating a hostile environment for gay athletes.)

The issue at hand circles back to a Russian Interior Ministry statement issued earlier this week, that explains how Russia plans to handle openly gay athletes and their own, more restrictive anti-gay laws:

“The law enforcement agencies can have no qualms with people who harbor a nontraditional sexual orientation and do not commit such acts [to promote homosexuality to minors], do not conduct any kind of provocation and take part in the Olympics peacefully,… Any discussion on violating the rights of representatives of nontraditional sexual orientations, stopping them from taking part in the Olympic Games or discrimination of athletes and guests of the Olympics according to their sexual orientation is totally unfounded and contrived.”

Russia’s National Olympic Committee’s Alexander Zhukov expounded on the rumors that “gay athletes will be arrested in Sochi,” saying:

“If a person does not put across his views in the presence of children, no measures against him can be taken. People of nontraditional sexual orientations can take part in the competitions and all other events at the Games unhindered, without any fear for their safety whatsoever.”

Plainly, the laws are horrible and it’s terrible in this day and age gay athletes will be forced back in the closet to participate and realize their dream in Sochi. But we’d do well to remember there are vast swaths of the South in which people can’t comfortably “be gay” anywhere near “children,” and that it doesn’t sound like Russia is breaking out the pink triangles just yet.

Ultimately, there are legitimate reasons to politically oppose the Russian stance on gay athletes at Sochi, and certainly the position is a blow to civil rights overall. But the blog post above linked seems to make it sound like Russia will be going out of its way to find and arrest gay athletes, whereas the statement leaves room for the possibility, but seems to indicate the opposite — that everyone involved on planning and implementation levels is hoping the issue of gay athletes in Russia will pass without incident or arrest.

It’s clear that gay athletes are walking into an unfriendly scene in Sochi in 2014. But it wouldn’t behoove the IOC or Russia to begin sanctioning gay athletes in the absence of a large violation of Russian law, and there has been nothing to indicate Russian officials want to enflame the LGBT community globally in such a manner.

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