Russian President Vladimir Putin promised gay athletes won't be persecuted by the country's strict anti-gay laws during the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. While this sentiment from Putin is significant and symbolic, the anti-gay uproar in Russia would be enough to give any athlete pause.
Putin made his startling promise during an inspection meeting with Thomas Bach, the head of the International Olympic Committee, in Moscow on Monday. "We will do everything to make sure that athletes, fans and guests feel comfortable at the Olympic Games regardless of their ethnicity, race or sexual orientation. I would like to underline that," Putin told Bach. The show of support was completely unexpected, according to Reuters, and didn't come after any prodding from Bach.
Russia's recently adopted a law that bans the distribution of LGBT "propaganda," or anything that suggests that gay is an okay way to be. And some athletes, fans, and Olympic officials worried gay athletes may face persecution upon entering the country. Russia promised not to enforce those laws during the Olympics, but hostilities towards LGBT culture took a dark turn last week. Two men broke into a Dutch official's home, tied him up with duct tape, trashed his house and wrote "LGBT" in lipstick on the mirror.
The IOC, however, has constantly supported LGBT rights, so Putin's remarks to Bach can be seen as ameliorating their concerns. Through public statements, and policy changes, the IOC has worked to shame Russia for its anti-gay rights stance leading up to the 2014 games. The U.S. Olympic Committee have also pushed for a change in the Olympic charter to prohibit discrimination based on sexuality.