Tuesday, October 29, 2013, 00:01
President Vladimir Putin, seeking to defuse criticism over his treatment of Russia’s gay community, said all people will be welcome in the Black Sea resort of Sochi for the 2014 Winter Olympics.
Triggering angry criticism from the West and even calls to boycott the Sochi games, Russia adopted in June a ban on homosexual “propaganda” among minors, a law denounced by critics as discriminatory and aimed at stifling dissent.
“We are doing everything, both the organisers and our athletes and fans, so that participants and guests feel comfortable in Sochi, regardless of nationality, race or sexual orientation,” Putin told Thomas Bach, the head of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), on an inspection visit in Sochi yesterday.
The remark came unexpectedly from Putin, who says there is no discrimination against gays in Russia which decriminalised homosexuality in 1993.
But gay people are often blamed for not helping overcome Russia’s demographic problems and face ostracism from the resurgent Orthodox Church.
Bach made no public mention of the issue, offering praise for Russia’s preparations for the Olympics.
“We are fully confident that the Games will be on a magnificent level,” Bach said.
“Sochi and the whole region completed a very big, successful development journey and we have been deeply impressed with this path.”