Russian President Vladimir Putin has said everyone is welcome to the Winter Olympic Games regardless of sexual orientation.
Putin made his statement on Oct. 28, 2013, when he welcomed International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach to Sochi.
“We will do everything … so that both the participants and guests feel comfortable in Sochi, regardless of ethnicity, racial heritage or sexual orientation,” Putin said, according to RIA Novosti.
Putin previously had signed a number of anti-gay laws that had people worried about openly gay athletes, trainers and guests attending the Games this month.
In June, Putin signed a bill classifying “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations to minors” as pornography. Those who make pro-gay statements are at risk of getting arrested or fined. The bill could target teachers who tell their students being gay is OK, or parents who tell their children homosexuality is normal.
The actual bill, Article 6.21, states that “propaganda is the act of distributing information among minors that 1) is aimed at the creating [of] nontraditional sexual attitudes, 2) makes nontraditional sexual relations attractive, 3) equates the social value of traditional and nontraditional sexual relations, or 4) creates an interest in nontraditional sexual relations.”
Visitors from other countries who violate the law could face up to 15 days in jail and pay a fine of 4,000 to 100,000 rubles or $125 to $3,100.
This set some athletes on edge.
Figure skater Ashley Wagner spoke out against the anti-gay laws, breaking away from the figure skaters sitting with her onstage during the Team USA Media Summit in Utah who avoided the topic.
“For me, I have gay family members, and I have a lot of friends in the LGBT community,” she said. “I’m even so nervous to talk about this. I have such a firm stance on this that we should all have equal rights.”
Four-time Olympic alpine skier Bode Miller took an even stronger stance on the issue.
“I think it’s so embarrassing that there’s countries and people who are that ignorant,” Miller said. “As a human being, I think it’s embarrassing.”
Rule 50 in the Olympic charter bans athletes from making any form of political, racial or religious statement on any Olympic site. Miller disagrees.
“Politics in sports and athletics are always intertwined even though people try and keep them separate,” he said.
Even though Wagner and Miller spoke out, many athletes, including LGBT athletes, are keeping quiet on the issue.
Openly gay figure skater Johnny Weir, known for his dramatic performances, announced his retirement from competitive skating and joined NBC as an analyst for the Winter Olympic Games. According to The Huffington Post, he has vowed to keep his political opinions separate from the Games. He is not alone.
Bobsledder Jazmine Fenlator says she learned at an early age from her mom to show respect to everyone, but she won’t show where she stands on the issue while in Sochi.
“The Olympics is so special in that people from all over the world come together and celebrate different cultures, everything else seems to stop,” Fenlator said during a press conference at the Team USA Media Summit. “It’s a time for celebration, not protest.”
BSU at the Games is a freelance news agency operated by 22 student journalists reporting from the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympic Games through an immersive-learning program at Ball State University.