IOC must push Russia on gay rights: Navratilova, Collins

Tue Dec 10, 2013 4:15pm EST
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By Michelle Nichols

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - Tennis star Martina Navratilova and U.S. basketball player Jason Collins said on Tuesday the International Olympic Committee has not done enough to defend the rights of gay athletes ahead of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.

Russia triggered angry criticism and even calls to boycott the Sochi Games when, in June, it banned spreading "gay propaganda" to minors. Critics denounced the law as discriminatory and a curb on rights to free speech and assembly.

Speaking at the United Nations to mark International Human Rights Day, Navratilova and Collins said focus should not just be on the Sochi Games in February and March, but also on the rights of gay Russians and on anti-gay laws in other countries that will play host to global sporting events in the future.

Navratilova, who has become a champion for gay athletes in sport since revealing she was gay in 1981, said she was disappointed with the International Olympic Committee "for really putting their head in the sand" over the Russian law.

"The IOC needs to stand up better for their athletes quite frankly," she told reporters. "It's (also) what happens after, and it's not just one country, it's many countries."

"Nobody is talking about, for example, Qatar, where the World Cup is going to be, homosexual activity is punishable by a jail term there," Navratilova said, referring to the 2022 FIFA World Cup of soccer.

The IOC has said it has received written assurances from the Russian government that the "gay propaganda" law would not affect Games participants and spectators.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said in October that everything was being done "so that participants and guests feel comfortable in Sochi, regardless of nationality, race or sexual orientation." However, gay rights activists have reported a rise of violence toward their community sparked by the new law.   Continued...

Russian artist Vasily Slonov carries a printed reproduction of an oil painting from the series "Welcome Sochi 2014" at a printing house in Russia's Siberian city of Krasnoyarsk, December 9, 2013. REUTERS/Ilya Naymushin