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International Olympic Committee seeks answers about Russia's anti-gay law

The International Olympic Committee has asked Russian officials for clarifications over a controversial anti-gay law in the run-up to the 2014 Sochi Winter Games. The committee wants answers before passing judgment.

IOC President Jacques Rogge said on Friday that the committee had received assurances from Sochi organizers with regard to the law in question but that there were still some outstanding issues.

"There are still uncertainties. We have asked for further clarification before making a decision. We are not clear about the English translation of the Russian law," Rogge said.

"The Games must be open free of discrimination," he added.

Legal questions

A federal law adopted by Russia in June bans "propaganda" of "nontraditional sexual orientation" to minors and stipulates that foreigners can be arrested and deported if convicted. It also calls for fines to be imposed on those holding gay pride rallies.

The bill has sparked international outrage, with activists calling for a boycott of the 2014 Sochi Winter Games.

The Russian sports minister, Vitaly Mutko, has insisted the law would be enforced during the 2014 Winter Games, scheduled for February 7-23. He went so far as to snub Western criticism.

"We don't have to be afraid of threats to boycott the Olympic Games," Mutko said. "All sensible people understand that sports demand independence, that it is inadmissible that politics intervene."

Mutko has acknowledged, however, that the private lives of athletes would be respected, as guaranteed by Russia’s constitution.

Rogge commented that such respect for the athletes was essential, but he also noted concern over the athletes’ right to freedom of expression. It is unclear whether athletes can speak freely on the issue whilst in Russia.

“We cannot make a comment on the law" until the clarifications have been received, Rogge said.

Rogge's statements were made after the traditional joint meeting of the IOC executive board and the council of the ruling athletics body IAAF just before the launch of the athletics World Championships in Moscow from August 10-18.

Fair to the athletes

US President Barack Obama also commented on the Russian law during a press conference in the White House on Friday, saying that it would be wrong to boycott the Olympic Games.

Obama explained that he was offended by the law but noted that it wouldn’t be fair to deny American athletes who have been training hard their chance to compete.

tm/kms (AP, dpa)