Anti-Gay Law Shunning Sochi Hurts Olympians, Merkel Says

Russia's new anti-gay "propaganda" law has some Western leaders considering a boycott of the Winter Olympics there next year. But German Chancellor Merkel says such a move would only harm athletes.
Activists in London display placards mocking Russian President Vladimir Putin during an August 10 protest of the new anti-gay 'propaganda' law in his country.

Activists in London display placards mocking Russian President Vladimir Putin during an August 10 protest of the new anti-gay 'propaganda' law in his country.

Foto: AP/dpa

As the debate over how Russia's ban on gay "propaganda" will affect next year's Winter Olympics in Sochi wears on, German Chancellor Angela Merkel has weighed in.

Some Western politicians, including Merkel's justice minister, Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger, have suggested that the new law, which discriminates against gays and lesbians, could be grounds for boycotting the event.

But Merkel opposes the idea. According to SPIEGEL, sources within the Chancellery say that the world's attention will be focused on Russia  next February, which will do far more to influence the situation there than a boycott, as was the case last year with regard to human rights  during the Eurovision Song contest in Azerbaijan.

In the Chancellor's view, athletes would suffer unduly from a boycott, sources told SPIEGEL.

German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, who is himself gay, expressed a similar view last week, saying that although the new law is "unacceptable," the discussion over boycotting the Olympic Games  is "counterproductive."

"It would be wrong to leave the field to those who are against tolerance and the protection of minorities," he told daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung on Saturday.

Moscow Promises Protection

Westerwelle's comments came in response to controversial statements made over the weekend at the world athletics championships in Moscow by Russian pole vaulting idol Yelena Isinbayeva, who criticized a Swedish athlete for showing solidarity with gay and lesbian athletes by wearing rainbow nail polish.

But on Sunday, Russia's sports minister assured that the country's new law would not cause problems for athletes or spectators during the Winter Games. As the competition in Moscow drew to a close, Vitaly Mutko said that "the freedoms of Russian and foreign athletes and guests who come to Sochi will be absolutely protected," though he compared homosexuality  to drug abuse.

Russia decriminalized homosexuality in 1993, and officials insist that the new law passed in June  does not penalize gay and lesbian orientation, but the spread of the lifestyle's non-traditional "propaganda" to young people. The law's failure to define what exactly constitutes distribution has many worried that it could be misused.

kla -- with wire reports