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Newspaper: British premier not to attend Sochi Olympics

December 21, 2013, 19:23 UTC+3 LONDON
The Independent quoted a source in the prime minister’s office as saying that the decision was not related to human rights problems in Russia
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© ITAR-TASS

LONDON, December 21, (ITAR-TASS). British Prime Minister David Cameron will not visit the Winter Olympic Games in the Russian Black Sea resort city of Sochi in February 2014, The Independent said.

The newspaper quoted a source in the prime minister’s office as saying that the decision was not related to human rights problems in Russia, including the rights of sexual minorities.

“The PM believes in engagement. He doesn’t think that boycotts and grand gestures achieve much,” an aide said.

Government sources told The Independent that culture ministers would be part of the British delegation to Sochi, although the final line-up had not been decided. It is also unlikely that Britain will follow U.S. President Barack Obama’s lead and send a high-profile gay rights activist as part of the official presence.

Russian President Vladimir Putin was present at the London 2012 Olympic Games, but previous British prime ministers did not often attend the Winter Olympics partly because Britain was never particularly strong at winter sports.

Russia recently adopted a law that bans homosexual propaganda and imposes fines for it. At the same time, the accompanying note says that administrative penalties will be charged not for the homosexual orientation of a person but for advertising homosexuality among children.

The law spurred a negative reaction in many countries and some hotheads even called for boycotting the Olympic Games in Sochi.

In August, British actor Stephen Fry sent a letter to the British prime minister and members of the International Olympic Committee, in which he said that being gay himself he condemned the latest Russian laws that restrict homosexual propaganda and called for moving the Olympic Games from Sochi to a place outside of Russia.

In his reply to Fry’s letter, Cameron rejected the idea of boycotting the Winter Olympic Games in Sochi in 2014. His office confirmed to ITAR-TASS that the prime minister was against boycotting the Sochi Olympics and had clearly stated his position on this issue.

Cameron said on Twitter that he shared Fry’s “deep concern about the abuse of gay people in Russia” but said that in his opinion “we can better challenge prejudice as we attend, rather than boycotting the Winter Olympics.”

There will be no infringements upon the rights of sexual minorities before, during or after the Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Kozak said on the same day Fry posted his letter.

“There will be no infringements based on sexual orientation during the Olympic Games, before or after them. They are not allowed by law,” he said.

Kozak also believes that the calls to boycott the Olympics following the adoption of the Russian law that bans propaganda of homosexual relations among minors were “merely private opinions.”

“No one should have any concerns, people can live their own private lives and disseminate their advantages and attractiveness among adults. The main point is to stay away from children,” Kozak said.

He noted that if such propaganda targets children, then “this is an administrative offence” that is penalised by a fine of about 4,000 roubles.

Speaking of the calls for boycott, Kozak expressed hope that “this will never occur in the history of Olympic Games again.”

Russian human rights ombudsman Vladimir Lukin said he had no doubt that the Russian authorities would find a way not to prosecute foreign athletes at the Sochi Olympics for homosexual propaganda.

Lukin said one should take the issue calmly and use the instruments provided by Russian legislation to protect the rights of sexual minorities.

He believes that the level of homophobia in the country will gradually decrease. “We will become closer eventually. Time is the best healer,” he said.

“Calls to boycott the Olympic Games and therefore Paralympic Games bring about the feeling of deep surprise and rejection,” Lukin said.

He noted that “we have the history of Games boycotts” and “we know that this did no good.” Over the ten years of his work as ombudsman he can recall only a handful of complaints about violations of sex minorities’ rights. “And when such complaints were filed we studied them most thoroughly,” he added.

“Naturally, as ombudsman, I will respond to such complaints before, during and after the Games, which is very important, being guided by the constitutional principle that these people, just like all others, have the same civil rights,” Lukin said. “If there are violations, I simply advise these people to contact us and we will deal with those who have violated their rights.”

He also stressed that a boycott by itself is an infringement upon one’s rights to some extent, in this case upon the rights of Paralympic athletes. “This minority deserves no less respect than any other minority. So should we upset their hopes and aspirations? This would be absolutely wrong and absolutely counterproductive,” he said.

Lukin does not rule out that the proposed boycott may have a political tinge. “Whenever a major event happens, there are political temptations and I do not rule out that some political forces are trying to exert pressure. This happened before and this happens all the time. We should take this calmly,” he said.

Sergei Zheleznyak, Deputy Speaker of the State Duma, lower house of the Russian parliament, said “each adult should make up his mind about his sexual orientation. Our law, which has been supported by all parliamentary parties, is not directed against non-traditional sexual relations as a phenomenon but aims to protect children and teenagers from the promotion of such relations.”

“We are trying to protect children who cannot objectively assess information being imposed because of their early age but such information can damage their minds and impart a distorted concept of relations between people,” he said.

The issue appeared to have raised such a strong reaction abroad that President Putin had to explain publicly on several occasions that there were no laws in Russia aimed against people with non-traditional sexual orientation.

He told Russia’s Channel One and the Associated Press that the law banning homosexual propaganda among minors aimed to improve the demographic situation in the country and would not have a negative impact on the Olympic Games in Sochi in 2014.

“I hope there will be no negative consequences especially since we have no laws aimed against persons with non-traditional sexual orientation,” the president said.

He assured the journalists that “persons with non-traditional sexual orientation are not discriminated against in any way here either professionally or in terms or salary or even if they achieve some success in work, they are not discriminated against in terms of their recognition by the state, I mean awarding them orders and medals. They have absolutely equal rights as citizens of the Russian Federation.

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