Athletes at the Winter Olympics in Sochi who openly protest Russia's anti-gay laws could face sanctions and possible disqualification by the IOC.
The International Olympic Committee says it supports gays and lesbians being allowed to compete in the Olympics but won't tolerate athletes who use the Winter Games as a platform to demonstrate against Russia's anti-gay laws.
In a statement issued Wednesday to MSN News, a spokeswoman said Rule 50 of the Olympic Charter clearly spells out that the Games "are not a place for proactive protests or demonstrations."
That section of the charter, titled "Advertising, Demonstrations, Propaganda," contains a clause that states: "No kind of demonstration or political, religious or racial propaganda is permitted in any Olympic sites, venues or other areas."
It adds: "No form of publicity or propaganda, commercial or otherwise, may appear on persons, on sportswear, accessories or, more generally, on any article of clothing or equipment whatsoever worn or used by the athletes or other participants in the Olympic Games, except for the identification ... of the manufacturer of the article or equipment concerned."
"This rule has been in place for many years and aims to separate sport from politics, honor the context of the Olympic Games, and ensure the peaceful gathering of athletes from over 200 nations, officials and spectators from all kinds of different cultures and backgrounds," the IOC said in its statement. "By its nature, the Olympic Games cannot become a platform for any kind of demonstration and the IOC will not accept any proactive gesture that could harm their spirit and jeopardize their future."
Gay Star News earlier reported the Olympic Committee was threatening to "punish" athletes who fight for gay rights at the Winter Games in Sochi next year.
IOC spokeswoman Sandrine Tonge told MSN News that characterization was misleading.
"Rule 50 of the Olympic Charter is in place to protect the athletes and all participants and make sure the field remains neutral," Tonge said.
The IOC didn't specify what action it would take against athletes, coaches and others who might skirt the rule by, as in examples cited by Gay Star News, wearing rainbow pins or holding hands during the opening and closing ceremonies.
Rule 50 states that any violation "may result in disqualification or withdrawal of the accreditation of the person concerned."
In its statement, the IOC said it would "treat each case individually and take a sensible approach depending on what was said or done."
Russia has recently implemented a law that bans "propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations among minors" and imposes fines on those holding gay-pride rallies. The move has prompted some gay-rights supporters to call for a boycott of the Sochi Olympics.
Russian lawmakers say the law doesn't outlaw homosexuality but merely discourages discussion of it among young people, according to The Associated Press.
The IOC said it has "received assurances from the highest level of government in Russia that the legislation will not affect those attending or taking part in the Games."
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