Gay Sochi athletes 'must respect Russian law,' minister says

Gay Sochi athletes 'must respect Russian law,' minister says

MOSCOW - Agence France-Presse
Gay Sochi athletes must respect Russian law, minister says

Gay rights activists carry rainbow flags as they march during a May Day rally in St. Petersburg, Russia on Wednesday, May 1, 2013. AP Photo/Dmitry Lovetsky

Gay athletes are welcome to participate in Russia's 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi but must obey a new law banning "homosexual propaganda", the country's sports minister said Thursday.

Russian President Vladimir Putin in June signed into law legislation that punishes the dissemination of information about homosexuality to minors but which activists say can be used for a broad crackdown against gays.

The law has aroused concerns among activists about whether Russia is fit to host the Games, the biggest sporting event it has held in its post-Soviet history.

"The law talks not about banning a non-traditional orientation but about other things, about propaganda and implicating minors," Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko told the R-Sport news agency.

"No one is banning a sportsman with a non-traditional sexual orientation from going to Sochi. But if he goes out onto the street and starts to make propaganda, then of course he will be brought to responsibility.

"As a sportsman, he should respect the law of a country," Mutko added. "Come (to Sochi), but don't get young people involved, don't make propaganda. This is what we are talking about," Mutko said.

Foreigners found guilty of violating the law can not only be fined up to 5,000 rubles ($156, 114 euros) but face administrative arrest of up to 15 days and eventual deportation.

Russian officials rarely use words like "gay" and "homosexual" and prefer to use the phrase "non-traditional sexuality" to describe same-sex love.