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Russian gay law raises alarm among Olympic sponsors

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

By Karolos Grohmann

BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) - Fears that Russia's controversial anti-gay law could affect next year's Sochi Winter Games has reached sponsors despite efforts by the Russians to play down the issue, the International Olympic Committee said on Sunday.

The Russian law, which forbids the dissemination of information on homosexuality to minors, has been seen by critics as discriminatory.

It has overshadowed preparations for the Sochi Olympics - a priority for Russian President Vladimir Putin, who wants it to show Russia as a modern state with top-notch infrastructure.

"Lately there has been a lot of discussion and I am pushed by several sponsors about what will happen with this new law in Russia," IOC marketing chief Gerhard Heiberg told Sochi Games chief Dmitry Chernyshenko.

"Especially the American sponsors are afraid what could happen. This could ruin a lot for all of us."

"We are not there to try to change the law in Russia," he said during an official Sochi Games progress presentation to the IOC in the Argentine capital.

"This is an internal Russian decision but what will the consequences be? This is possibly a way where we could get some kind of invitation for people to make demonstrations."

The IOC has said it has received written assurances from the Russian government that the issue would not affect Games participants, including accredited people as well as Games spectators.

But despite the assurances it is still unclear what repercussions this could have on anyone talking about homosexuality in front of minors during the Games or choosing to express his or her sexual orientation in an Olympic venue.

"All necessary clarification has been provided to the IOC directly by the Russian ministry of justice," Chernyshenko said in response.

"The constitution of the Russian federation guarantees equality of rights for everybody in the country. It explicitly prohibits any form of discrimination," he told the IOC session.

Critics, however, claim it is one of a string of repressive measures introduced by the former KGB spy Putin in the first year of his third presidential term that clamp down on dissent, violate gay rights and restrain non-governmental organisations.

"We make this clear. This law recently passed does not prohibit homosexuality directly or indirectly. It does not contradict elements of the Olympic Charter. It will not stop 2014 proudly upholding the Olympic values," Chernyshenko said.

"The law will have no impact for any guest visitor. Whether athletes or just fans or members of Olympic family, everybody is welcome to enjoy the fantastic Games."

Chernyshenko said Putin had awarded "the highest Russian order" to a homosexual recently. "This is a greatest example of diversity of our country. It's important to have your (IOC) support in this campaign."

(Reporting by Karolos Grohmann, Editing by Tom Bartlett)

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/thomson-reuters/130908/russian-gay-law-raises-alarm-among-olympic-sponsors