Sochi Mayor Anatoly Pakhomov says there are no gay people in the Russian city preparing to host the upcoming winter Olympic Games.
In interview with the BBC’s Panorama on Monday, Pakhomov told interviewer John Sweeney: “We don’t have them in our town.”
Asked if he was sure about his claim, Pakhomov replied: “I’m not sure, I don’t bloody know them.”
But Pakhomov said gay people would be welcome at the Games as long as they respect “the laws of the Russian Federation,” and don’t “impose their habits and their will on others.”
“Yes, everyone is welcome,” he added.
Meanwhile, Boris Nemtsov, a Liberal opposition leader in Russia, laughed off Pakhomov’s claim that there are no gay people in Sochi.
“As far as I know, there are several gay clubs in Sochi,” he told the BBC. “How do they survive, why are they not bankrupt?” he said.
Despite implementing a law banning gay “propaganda” to minors in June 2013, Russian President Vladimir Putin reassured gay visitors on Jan. 17 that they are welcome to the Sochi Games, and vowed that they will not face discrimination.
However, he defended the country’s anti-gay law by grouping homosexuality and pedophilia together, and said that the “propaganda of homosexuality and pedophilia” is still banned.
Gay councillor heading to Sochi
Openly gay Vancouver Councillor Tim Stevenson is heading to Sochi on Tuesday to represent his city at the upcoming Olympic Games.
Stevenson will meet with representatives for the International Olympic Committee and the Canadian Olympic Committee in Russia to press officials to support LGBTQ athletes in the wake of legal crackdowns on homosexuality in Russia.
“This idea emerged that I, as the openly gay councillor on council, should go as the deputy mayor to make a strong statement that we believe in inclusivity,” Stevenson told CTV’s Canada AMon Monday.
Stevenson will lobby for changes, including that the IOC make Pride Houses a requirement for bids from would-be host cities of Olympic Games.
The 2010 Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver featured the first Pride House, which Stevenson describes as a “safe house for Olympic athletes and their families and friends, to come together and join the Games after their particular event.”
Pride Houses were then implemented at the London games in 2012, and are planned for the 2016 Olympics in Rio. Russian Olympic organizers, however, rejected requests for a Pride House at the 2014 Sochi Games.
Stevenson said Russia may not have bid for the Games if Pride Houses had been listed as a requirement for host cities. “What I’m trying to speak to the IOC about is having Pride Houses in every Olympics from here on end so that the situation you have now in Russia won’t happen again,” he said.
The councillor also hopes to press the IOC to update the Olympic charter to include a non-discrimination clause regarding sexual orientation and LGBTQ athletes.
“Olympic athletes have told us over and over that discrimination within the Olympic movement is very, very strong,” he said.
The decision to send Stevenson to Russia rather than Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson came after much debate about how the city would respond to Russia’s crackdowns on gay and lesbian citizens.
The Russian parliament passed a law in late June 2013 banning “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations” to minors.